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Beacon College will confer honorary doctorates on a national disability advocate and a crusading desegregationist at its 30th Commencement Exercises Saturday, May 4 for their efforts to boost inclusion for individuals with physical and mental handicaps and promote equality for minorities handicapped by the legacy of Jim Crow.

The candidates to receive the Doctor of Humane Letters are:

James T. Brett

James T Brett A national disability advocate and former Massachusetts legislator, Brett has served since 1996 as the president and chief executive officer of The New England Council, an alliance of schools, hospitals, corporations, and other private groups dedicated to promoting economic growth in the six-state region. Inspired by his brother Jack, who has unique abilities, Brett picked up the gauntlet as a tireless champion of the cause. He has served as the Chairman of The President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. In 2016, Congress appointed him to the National Council on Disability. He is also chair of the Governor’s Commission on Intellectual Disability and serves as the chair of the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission. He formerly served on the Federal Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities.

Dr. Charles Vert Willie

Charles Vert Willie The Charles William Eliot Professor of Education, Emeritus at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Willie’s expertise on race helped shape desegregation efforts across the nation. An educator, activist, sociologist, and expert in school desegregation, Willie in 1950 became the first African-American professor at Syracuse University. He ultimately served as the chair of the department of sociology and the university’s vice president of student affairs, before moving on to Harvard. A prolific scholar, he has authored 30 books on race, gender, socioeconomics, religion, education, urban communities, and family dynamics. Still, this grandson of a former slave and self-described “applied sociologist” made perhaps his greatest social impact with his consultancy and expert testimony in desegregation trials in communities including Boston, Hartford, Dallas, Denver, and Lee County, Fla. and other cases intersecting his passions.

“We are privileged to celebrate the consequential social influence of our two recipients of honorary doctorates of humane letters,” said Beacon President George J. Hagerty. “Although one of our honorees (Willie) pursued the path of scholarly action and the other (Brett) harnessed the effective use of public service, their individual and collective contributions on behalf of traditionally marginalized people in our society have been truly transformational. The scope and impact of their lives and work can only be characterized as extraordinary.”

Honorary degrees are awarded by the Board of Trustees of Beacon College and will be conferred by the college president during Commencement Exercises at Lake Receptions in Mount Dora starting at 11 a.m. Honorees will deliver remarks of five to seven minutes — the school’s alternative to a Commencement speaker.

This year’s class of 85 students marks the largest graduating class in the school’s 30-year history.

Founded in 1989, Beacon College is the first accredited baccalaureate institution dedicated to educating primarily students with learning disabilities, ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning differences. Ranked No. 1 in Best Value Schools’ 2019 rankings of 20 Best Value Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities, Beacon College is recognized nationally as a preeminent institution for accommodating and preparing students who learn differently to prosper in a global economy.