Michael Eric Dyson to speak at Commencement May 12

Michael Eric Dyson

Michael Eric Dyson

April 19, 2012

Michael Eric Dyson, noted professor, author and radio host, will serve as the speaker for Winston-Salem State University’s (WSSU) commencement on Saturday, May 12, at 9:45 a.m. in the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

On the recommendation of Chancellor Donald J. Reaves, the Board of Trustees of WSSU voted unanimously to confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters upon Dyson.  The Board also voted unanimously to confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws upon Judge Joseph D.  Johnson and the Doctor of Humane Letters upon Dr. Merdis J. McCarter.  

Dyson, named by Essence magazine as one of the 40 most inspiring African Americans and by Ebony magazine as one of the 150 most powerful African Americans, has taught at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, is an author with a New York Times best seller, and hosts an hour-long news and talk program on National Public Radio.

An ordained Baptist minister at the age of 19, Dyson worked in Detroit factories to support his family before entering college as a freshman at the age of 21.  He graduated magna cum laude from Carson-Newman College and earned his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in religion from Princeton University.  In addition to his work as an author and radio host, Dyson is also a professor of sociology at Georgetown University where, in 2011, he received widespread attention for his course “Sociology of Hip-Hop: Jay-Z.”

Dyson’s first book in 1993, Reflecting Black: African American Cultural Criticism, helped establish the field of black American cultural studies.  He has also written about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Tupac Shakur and the first major book on Hurricane Katrina, which received the American Book Award.  His work has also garnered three NAACP Image Awards for outstanding non-fiction literary work.

Three honorary degrees to be awarded

Dyson will be recognized for his pioneering scholarship and the influence he has had through his writing, teaching and speaking.    He has been called a “superstar professor” by the Washington Post and “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today” by Vanity Fair magazine. 

Joseph Johnson graduated from WSSU in 1973 and earned his J.D. degree from the University of Kansas Law School.  He was appointed as District Judge in the 3rd Judicial District in Shawnee County, Kansas in 2005 after spending 28 years in private practice and as an assistant state public defender.   A distinguished jurist and educator, Johnson has taught at the National Criminal Defense College, the Triad Advocacy Institute and the University of Wyoming School of Law.  His professional activities include the Kansas Association of District Judges, the American Judges Association, the National Black Judges Association, the American college of Trial Layers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  A past member of the WSSU Board of Visitors, Johnson has served on the Board of Governors for the Kansas School of Law and the Board of Directors of the National Criminal Defense College.

Merdis McCarter, senior associate provost for Academic Affairs and Undergraduate Programs, is retiring after more than 40 years at the university.

“Merdis has been such an integral part of Winston-Salem State for so long that it is hard to imagine not seeing her on the campus,” said Chancellor Reaves.  “She has contributed greatly to the academic development of the university and certainly played a major role in the rigorous process of accreditation renewal for many years.”

McCarter joined WSSU in 1968 as a mathematics instructor.  In addition to teaching and serving as chair of the Department of Mathematics, she also is the founding director of the university’s Honors Program.  McCarter was named assistant vice chancellor for Academic Affairs in 1998 and senior associate provost for Academic Affairs in 2003.  She has also served as interim provost and interim dean for the College of Arts and Sciences.  Since 1998, McCarter has been involved in the university’s accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), including serving as chair or co-chair in 2000 and 2010 processes that led to the institution being able to offer master’s degrees and then its first doctorate degree.  McCarter has also been active with SACS as a visiting team member reviewing other colleges and universities.  Additionally, McCarter has been involved in numerous efforts at WSSU that include restructuring the Department of Social Sciences, developing majors in mathematics and computer science and the development of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) Scholars Program.

Dyson, Johnson and McCarter will be recognized for their achievements and receive their honorary degrees during commencement.

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