Four Honorary Degrees to be Awarded at Commencement

Recipients Include Two Trinity Alumni and Founder of Say Yes to Education

HARTFORD, CT, May 11, 2015 – This year’s honorary degree recipients at the Trinity College Commencement on Sunday, May 17, will be the Reverend James Morris Lawson, Jr., renowned elder statesman of the American civil rights movement, who will deliver the 2015 Commencement address; alumna JoAnne A. Epps, dean of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law; alumnus Jon A. Reynolds, U.S. Air Force brigadier general, retired; and George Allen Weiss, the founder of Say Yes to Education.

Biographical information about each honorary degree recipient is below.

The Reverend James Morris Lawson, Jr.

One of the most renowned advocates for nonviolence in American history, the Reverend James Morris Lawson, Jr., was described by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., as the “leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.” TIME magazine identified Lawson as one of seven icons of the civil rights movement.

In 1960, Lawson was the architect of a plan to desegregate downtown Nashville, leading workshops to prepare participants for the nonviolent campaign, and he was instrumental in founding the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He wrote the SNCC’s statement of purpose and delivered the keynote speech at the organization’s founding meeting in April 1960. During the 1960s, Lawson was a mentor to King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and a volunteer for campaigns in cities across the South.

Lawson moved to Los Angeles in 1974 to lead Holman United Methodist Church, serving as pastor until his retirement in 1999. During the last 15 years, Lawson has continued to work for justice and civil rights for all people and has served as a visiting lecturer at several institutions, including Harvard Divinity School and UCLA. At age 86, he continues to travel the country to champion social justice and nonviolence. He will receive an honorary doctor of divinity degree.

JoAnne A. Epps

JoAnne A. Epps ’73, has taught law at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law for nearly 30 years, serving as dean of the law school since 2008. She has distinguished herself as an advocate for legal education that emphasizes institutional responsiveness, and in both 2013 and 2014, National Jurist magazine named her one of the 25 most influential people in legal education.

Long a champion for women and minorities within the profession, Epps has been awarded the 2014 Justice Sonia Sotomayor Diversity Award by the Philadelphia Bar Association and is a three-time honoree by Lawyers of Color magazine as one of the 100 most influential black lawyers in the country.

Her involvement in social justice issues dates to her time at Yale Law School, from which she graduated in 1976, when she was a national officer in the Black Students’ Association.    In recent years, Epps has counseled lawyers from some of the world’s most war-town areas, teaching advocacy skills to prosecutors at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and training Sudanese lawyers representing victims of the Darfur crisis.

Epps will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Jon A. Reynolds

Retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Jon A. Reynolds ’59, who will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree, has led exemplary careers in both the military and the private sector. Born and raised in Philadelphia, he was an engineering major at Trinity and, upon graduation, obtained his commission via the U.S. Air Force ROTC. Following pilot training, he was assigned to the 429th Tactical Fighter Squadron in New Mexico and participated in Cold War deployments, including the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. He deployed to Vietnam in 1963 and in 1965, was shot down and captured, spending more than seven years as a prisoner of war.

Upon his repatriation in 1973, Reynolds chose to remain in the military and taught history at the U.S. Air Force Academy after receiving his master’s degree from Duke University in 1975. He earned his Ph.D. from Duke in 1980. In 1982, Reynolds joined the Defense Intelligence Agency, studied Mandarin Chinese, and was assigned as air and defense attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, serving from 1984 to 1988.

Reynolds retired from the U.S. Air Force as a brigadier general in 1990. After his retirement, he joined Raytheon Company as vice president for its International Technology Programs. His first project was to destroy chemical weapons stored on Johnson Atoll. From 1993 to 2000, he was responsible for all of Raytheon’s sales and operations in China, Hong Kong, and Mongolia.

George Allen Weiss

As the founder and chairman of Say Yes to Education, George Allen Weiss has created opportunities for thousands of at-risk children throughout the United States. In 1987, when he founded this nonprofit organization, he guaranteed a college education to more than 100 Philadelphia schoolchildren if they graduated high school. Today, Say Yes to Education impacts 65,000 students in five cities, including Hartford.

Weiss, who will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Trinity, knows firsthand how education can change lives. The son of Jewish immigrants who fled Nazi Austria, he grew up poor in Massachusetts and was working in a hotel coffee shop when a Boston University professor encouraged him to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, where he graduated in 1965.

Weiss is president of the money management firm he founded in 1978, George Weiss Associates, and is CEO of Weiss Multi-Strategy Advisors LLC. In addition to founding and growing Say Yes, he has given generously to the University of Pennsylvania, endowing professorships and scholarships and funding academic and athletic centers. He also is the founder of the Orphan Disease Pathway Project, which partners with Penn Medicine to find cures and treatments for rare diseases.