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President Valerie Smith's Charge to Dawn Porter '88

Dawn Porter ‘88 creates films that make a difference, by amplifying stories that would otherwise go untold. Her award-winning documentaries and independent features are connected by a common thread — the pursuit of justice, fairness, and holding our country accountable to its highest ideals.

The co-founder of Trilogy Films, Dawn quickly made a name for herself as a filmmaker after leaving a successful career in corporate law. In 2013, she released her directorial debut, Gideon’s Army, which followed the lives of three Deep South public defenders as they struggled to represent their clients amid underresourced offices. Named for the landmark 1963 Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright, the documentary went on to receive the top editing prize at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as a Peabody Award and an Emmy nomination. 

Her subsequent films have addressed segregation, anti-abortion laws, and American politics. Last year, Dawn released John Lewis: Good Trouble. The film, honoring the late civil rights icon and longtime congressman, made “good trouble” itself, premiering on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Okla., at a protest against a Donald Trump campaign rally in the city that day. The film received widespread praise including the Critics Choice Award for best political documentary and an NAACP Image Award.

Dawn, upon the recommendation of the faculty, and by the power vested in me by the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have the honor to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.