Seven to receive honorary degrees at Commencement

Allison Teixeira
May 04, 2011

Emerson College will award seven honorary degrees during the College’s 131st Commencement ceremonies on Monday (May 16) at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre.

Executive television producer, faculty member, and Trustee Kevin Bright ’76; journalist, playwright, and activist Janet Langhart Cohen; screenwriter Richard LaGravenese; Emerson College president Jacqueline Liebergott; and philanthropist and Trustee Marillyn Zacharis will each be awarded honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during the morning undergraduate commencement ceremony.

Communications professor Clifford Christians and broadcast news reporter Janet Yuen-Mei Wu will receive their degrees at the afternoon graduate commencement exercises.

LaGravenese, a member of Emerson College’s class of 1980, will deliver the undergraduate address. The graduate address will be delivered by Christians. Langhart Cohen will address students during the academic awards ceremony at the Cutler Majestic Theatre the day before commencement.

Approximately 950 bachelor’s degrees will be conferred at the 131st annual undergraduate ceremony, which will begin at 11:00 am, and 370 master’s degrees will be conferred during the graduate exercises, which start at 3:00 pm. Receptions for family and friends will be held on Boston Common following each event. 

Degree Recipient Biographical Information:

As one of the original executive producers behind the hit NBC series Friends, Kevin S. Bright has gained recognition as one of television comedy’s most successful producers.

Early in his career, Bright produced the CableACE Award-winning series The History of White People in America, as well as HBO specials starring Robin Williams, Harry Shearer, and Paul Shaffer. In 1989, he received an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series as supervising producer on Fox’s In Living Color. In 1992, Bright won a CableACE Award for Best Comedy Series as executive producer of Dream On.

During its 10-year run (1994–2004), Friends received the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series as well as the People’s Choice Award for Favorite Comedy Series. In addition to his work as producer, Bright directed more than 50 episodes, including the season finale of each year.

Bright is a 1976 graduate of Emerson College and serves on its Board of Trustees. In 2006, he was named an executive artist-in-residence and in this role teaches a course on Directing and Producing Pilots for Television.

He also volunteers at Perkins School for the Blind, where he is developing a method of teaching film production to the visually impaired.

Clifford Christians is the former director of the Institute of Communications Research and chair of the doctoral program in communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a position he also held from 1987 to 2001. He has been a visiting scholar in philosophical ethics at Princeton University and in social ethics at the University of Chicago, and a PEW fellow in ethics at Oxford University. On the faculty at Illinois since 1974, Christians has won five teaching awards. His teaching interests are in the philosophy of technology, dialogic communication theory, and media ethics. He has been published in numerous national and international journals. Christians received his PhD in communications from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He serves on the editorial boards of a dozen academic journals, is the former editor of Critical Studies in Media Communication, and currently edits The Ellul Forum. He has lectured or given academic papers worldwide in countries that include Belgium, Norway, Russia, Finland, Taiwan, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, England, Singapore, Korea, Scotland, Philippines, Slovenia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Sweden. He is listed in Who’s Who in America, International Who’s Who in Education, and Outstanding Scholars of the 21st Century: Communication Ethics. The Lambda Pi Eta Honor Society of Duquesne University gave him its Ethics Scholar Award in 1999, and the Carl Couch Center for Social and Internet Research offers its Ethics Research Award annually in his name.

In 2003, he won the AEJMC Presidential Award for distinguished service to journalism and mass communication education, and in 2004, AEJMC’s Paul J. Deutschmann Award for Excellence in Research. He was the James A. Jaksa Ethics Scholar in Residence at the Eighth National Communication Ethics Conference in June 2004.

Janet Langhart Cohen’s distinguished career in communication and the arts spans nearly five decades and reflects personal and professional achievements as an award-winning journalist, television personality, author, playwright, and human rights advocate. Born and raised in Indianapolis, she broke a television color barrier in Chicago in the 1960s, serving as the first black weather person for a CBS affiliate (WBBM-TV). She rose to national prominence in the 1970s as the first black woman to host a nationally syndicated TV show, Good Day, which was produced in Boston by WCVB-TV. 

janet cohen to receive honorary degree at emerson commencement 2011

Janet Langhart Cohen

Langhart Cohen has appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, and BET and produced several programs, including On Capitol Hill with Janet Langhart. She worked as an overseas correspondent in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East and as a special reporter for Entertainment Tonight. She has also been a columnist for the Boston Heraldand U.S. News & World Report, and judged the White House Fellows program.

She has interviewed many leaders and major newsmakers of the 20th century, including President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter, Margaret Thatcher, Rosa Parks, Mel Gibson, Bill Cosby, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In 2007, Langhart Cohen added playwright to her list of accomplishments, writing and producing a one-act play called Anne and Emmett, an imaginary conversation between two teenage victims of institutional racism: Jewish Holocaust victim Anne Frank and African American Emmett Till, who was murdered by whites in 1955. The play is believed to be the first artistic work to draw parallels between the experiences of the two young people. It made its first fully staged U.S. debut at Emerson College in 2008. 

Richard LaGravenese was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Emerson College (class of 1980) and graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Experimental Theatre Program. He went on to try his hand at comedy, performing and writing for a troupe he helped develop. In addition to holding down unrelated day jobs, the struggling actor helped make ends meet by writing monologues for other actors. He segued to films as a co-writer on the comedy Rude Awakening (1989).

His big break came from his second produced screenplay, The Fisher King (1991), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film starred Jeff Bridges as long-haired Jack Lucas, a suicidal New York DJ who regains his grasp on life after meeting Parry, an ostensibly insane homeless man (Robin Williams) obsessed with questing for the Holy Grail in midtown Manhattan.

LaGravenese courted additional acclaim with his screenplays for his 1995 adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess and that same year’s Bridges of Madison County, adapted from the Robert James Waller novel, directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Eastwood and Meryl Streep. Living Out Loud (1998), starring Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, and Queen Latifah, marked LaGravenese’s directorial debut. That effort’s 1998 release marked only one endeavor amid a very productive year for LaGravenese, as two other films he had adapted for the screen, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, directed by Jonathan Demme, and Nicholas Evans’s The Horse Whisperer, directed by Robert Redford, were released around the same time. In 2000, LaGravenese was an uncredited script reviser for Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich, written by Susannah Grant.

LaGravenese also wrote and directed Freedom Writers, starring Hilary Swank and doubled up as director and screenwriter on another film starring Swank, the box-office hit P.S. I Love You. His most recent screenplay credit, Water for Elephants, is currently in theaters.

Jacqueline Liebergott has served the Emerson College community for four decades as a faculty member, senior academic administrator, and president.

Liebergott came to Emerson in 1970 as a member of the Communication Sciences and Disorders faculty. She quickly gained a reputation as a gifted teacher and a prolific researcher, garnering 10 sponsored research grants and authoring or co-authoring more than 20 scholarly articles and other published works.

In 1984, she was named dean of graduate studies and was promoted to academic vice president in 1989. She was named interim president in 1992 and permanent president in 1993.

During her tenure, Liebergott has overseen the enhancement and restructuring of the College’s distinctive programs in communication and the arts, an unprecedented relocation and expansion of the school’s campus, and a significant increase in the size and academic quality of its student body and faculty.

The Boston Globe, city officials, and others have praised the development of Emerson’s downtown Boston campus as a catalyst for the transformation of the adjoining Theatre District neighborhood as well as the College.

To further enhance Emerson’s leadership role in theater and the arts, Liebergott created ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage to present world-class artistic productions and films at the College’s Cutler Majestic and Paramount Theatres and other venues.

She has also led a planning effort for creating a permanent center in Hollywood to house the College’s 21-year-old Los Angeles Program.

As a leader in the ProArts Consortium of Boston arts colleges, Liebergott was instrumental in the 1998 founding of the Boston Arts Academy, the city’s first high school for the arts.

Janet Yuen-Mei Wu is an award-winning political and investigative reporter at WCVB-TV Boston and dean of Massachusetts State House Broadcasters. A native of Bridgewater, New Jersey, Wu received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1972. She began her career in journalism as a reporter for United Press International from 1973 to 1978. From 1979 to 1983, she covered state politics for WGBH-TV in Boston. Since 1983, Wu has been the NewsCenter 5 state house reporter for WCVB-TV. In 2006, she joined WCVB’s investigative unit, Team 5 Investigates. In addition, she teams with NewsCenter 5 anchor Ed Harding ’75 to co-host On the Record, a weekly roundtable discussion of Massachusetts politics.

janet wu to receive an honorary degree from emerson

Janet Wu

As a key member of WCVB’s political unit, Wu and other team members were honored in 2001 and again in 2005 with the coveted Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Political Journalism. In 1998, Wu was awarded top honors in the Associated Press Investigative/Enterprise category and the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting for her report titled “Public Property, Private Lies.” In addition, the NewsCenter 5 political team was honored in 1989 with a First Place National Headliners Award and a Murrow Award for the best political coverage of any station in the nation. In 2010, Wu was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Marillyn Zacharis has devoted nearly 40 years to the advancement of education, the arts, and culture in Greater Boston.

A graduate of DePauw University, Zacharis earned her master’s degree at Indiana University and taught high school English for five years in California, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. In 1972, she moved to Massachusetts with her late husband, John Zacharis, who had joined the Emerson College faculty and later became its president.

She was elected to the Emerson Board of Trustees in 1996 and currently serves as its secretary. As chair of the board’s Development Committee, she led a campaign to raise funds to build an 11-story performance and development center and provided the leadership gift for the campaign.

The center, named in memory of Zacharis’s parents, Norman I and Mary Tufte, opened in 2003. It includes the Semel and Greene Theaters, the Di Bona Family Television Studio and Control Room, the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Design Technology and Makeup Suite, the Huret & Spector Gallery, and a variety of classrooms and offices.

Zacharis also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Boston Conservatory of Music, as vice president of Opera Boston, and vice president of the Worcester County Horticultural Society. She is past president of the Masterworks Chorale in Boston and is an active supporter of the Ploughshares literary journal at Emerson.

She has served on the finance committee of the Town of Weston, where she resides, and as the town’s representative to the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). She has also been active in the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts (president, 1989–1991) and WGBH-TV.