Johnnetta B.Cole, Ph.D., former president of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women and currently the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) in Washington, D.C., will be the guest speaker at Hollins University’s 171st Commencement Exercises, which will be held Sunday, May 19 at 10 a.m. on Hollins’ historic Front Quadrangle.
During her long and distinguished career as a college leader and professor and through her published works, speeches, and community service, Cole has focused on creating racial and gender parity and redressing all other forms of inequality.
After completing her undergraduate studies at Oberlin College, Cole earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in anthropology at Northwestern University. She made history in 1987 when she became the first African American woman to serve as president of Spelman. At her inauguration, Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, made a $20 million gift to the college, and during her presidency, Spelman was named the top liberal arts college in the South. She is also Professor Emerita at Emory University, where she retired as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women’s Studies, and African American Studies.
Cole has been awarded 55 honorary degrees and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the TransAfrica Forum Global Public Service Award, the Radcliffe Medal, the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the Anti-Defamation League’s Joseph Prize for Human Rights, the Uncommon Height Award from the National Council of Negro Women, and the Lenore and George W. Romney Citizen Volunteer Award from the Points of Light Foundation. Ebony magazine named her to its “Power 100” list of the nation’s most influential African Americans in 2010, and the following year she was featured on Washingtonian magazine’s list of “Washington’s 100 Most Powerful Women.”
In addition to leading the NMAfA, Cole presently serves on the Scholarly Advisory Board for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the construction of which will be completed on the National Mall in 2015.