CSB commencement on May 8 features poet Elizabeth Alexander as speaker

Elizabeth Alexander, poet, essayist, playwright and Yale professor, will deliver the commencement address during the 95th annual commencement ceremony at the College of Saint Benedict at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 8 in the Clemens Field House/Haehn Campus Center on the CSB campus.

Alexander will also receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from CSB.

During the commencement ceremony, CSB will present its President's Medal to Telzena Coakley, a retired educator from the Bahamas, and Kathy Cooney, executive vice president, chief administrative officer and chief financial officer for HealthPartners and current chairperson of the CSB Board of Trustees. Ashley Ver Burg, a senior environmental studies major and CSB student senate president from River Falls, Wis., will be the student commencement speaker, as selected by this year's CSB senior class.

The 2010 CSB graduation class includes 494 women, which is the second largest class in school history. When combined with Saint John's University's 444 undergraduate men, this year's combined undergraduate graduating class of 938 is the second-largest class.

Alexander, currently the chairperson of the Department of African American Studies at Yale University, made history in 2009 when she read her poem, "Praise Song for the Day," at Barack Obama's inauguration in Washington, D.C. She became the fourth poet to compose and deliver a poem at a presidential inauguration, joining an elite club which includes Maya Angelou, Robert Frost and Miller Williams. She is considered a pivotal figure in contemporary American poetry.

She has published five books of poems, including American Sublime (2005), which was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and one of the American Library Association's "Notable Books of the Year." Her most recent poetry book is her first young adult collection Miss Crandall's School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color (2008 Connecticut Book Award, co-authored with Marilyn Nelson). Alexander has also authored two essays.

She has received numerous awards including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for "work that contributes to improving race relations in American society." In 2007, Alexander won the first Jackson Prize for poetry, which was awarded by her peers.

Coakley, one of the President's Medal honorees and a 1962 graduate of CSB, is a retired educator in the Bahamas. She spent her early career as an elementary school teacher and principal in Nassau and then taught for four years at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud. She returned to the Bahamas and co-founded and directed the Benedictine University College (BUC) from 1974-1990. Coakley has also served as a senior officer in the Ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs, Tourism, and Finance, and as a member of the Public Service Commission, all in the Bahamas.

A total of 3,013 Bahamian students have attended CSB and SJU or the BUC in the Bahamas since 1974, and 2,243 of these students were women. Currently, there are 27 CSB students and 21 SJU students from the Bahamas.

Cooney, the other President's Medal honoree, has been on the CSB Board of Trustees since 2000 and currently serves as its board chair. She has had a pivotal role in shaping the college's vision and strategic direction. In addition to her professional role at HealthPartners, she teaches in the health care management program at the University of St. Thomas and serves on board of directors for Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. In 2002, she received the inaugural Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal CFO of the Year Award.

The President's Medal is awarded to those members of the CSB community who have demonstrated extraordinary loyalty, dedication and service to the college and its mission of liberal arts education in the Benedictine tradition. Recipients receive a symbolic representation of the President's Medal that exhibits the seal of the college.

Past recipients of the award include Tony Reveles, a guidance counselor from Bell High School in Los Angeles, Calif.; Tom and Joyce Schlough, owners of Park Industries in St. Cloud and community philanthropists; Nancy Ehlen, artist and philanthropist; and the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict, founders of the college.

(Posted April 23, 2010)