Author and Philanthropist to Speak at 2019 Commencement
by Taylor Godfrey ’19 and Abigail Czerniecki ’19
Editor and Associate Editor-in-Chief
Steve Pemberton has been announced as the 2019 Providence College Commencement speaker. Pemberton is a human rights advocate and currently serves as Chief Human Resources Officer at software company, Workhuman. Formerly the Vice President and the first Chief Diversity Officer for Walgreen’s, Pemberton speaks from his troubled childhood to advocate for human rights today.
The committee to select the Commencement speaker chose Pemberton after watching hours of video of his previous speaking engagements. Pemberton was elected for his engaging manner of speaking and the strong interest towards student success that he has demonstrated over the years. It is especially crucial the Commencement speaker is able to captivate that the audience and the graduates after several speeches by the president, honorary degree recipients, and degree announcements. The role of the Commencement speaker is to inspire and offer advice to the graduates and the committee believes Pemberton will deliver.
Pemberton’s story is one of facing and overcoming adversity. After being put into foster care at the age of three, Pemberton suffered hardships such as abusive foster families, but despite this adversity, he was able to earn both his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Boston College.
In 2012, he published a best-selling memoir, A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, A Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home, about his childhood experiences and how they made him who he is today. A Chance in the World was also made into a film, directed by Mark Vadik, that was released in May 2018.
The title of Pemberton’s book, and the subsequent film, was inspired by one of his old babysitter’s diary entries. His babysitter had written that the little boy, Pemberton, “didn’t have a chance in the world.” Pemberton used his hardships, such as this one, as a means to excel in academics and his adult years.
A Chance in the World is also the name of the foundation Pemberton runs with his wife, Tonya. Aimed at giving more kids the opportunity to get an education and reach their goals, the foundation supports schools and charitable organizations, as well as offers the Steve Pemberton Scholarship to deserving students at Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Pemberton discusses in his memoir the “lighthouses” he had throughout his difficult journey from his adolescent and teenage years. These “lighthouses,” Pemberton describes in his book, are those who showed him small acts of kindness, such as his neighbors or his teachers. It was those who showed him love and taught him kindness that influenced his future successes.
He has been awarded the Trumpet Award, created to recognize black humanitarians who have succeeded against tremendous odds, as well as the U.S. Congress’s Horizon Award for individuals from the public sector who have changed the lives of young Americans.
Pemberton is also an accomplished speaker, delivering addresses at many different corporations and nonprofits. He has given keynote addresses and Commencement speeches at numerous colleges and universities, including Boston College, DePaul University, Mount Ida College, and Northwestern University.
In his 2016 Commencement speech at Mount Ida College, Pemberton mentioned how he will likely be forgotten by the graduates gathered before him, but that he hoped they would allow him to jump into their family photos after the ceremony. This is a spirit that Steven Maurano, associate vice president of public affairs, community & government relations, noted Pemberton is eager to bring to the PC Commencement. He added that Pemberton hopes he will be able to go out among the community and the students before the ceremonies, emphasizing his dedication to the communities of which he is a part.
Pemberton will receive an honorary degree from the College for his participation in this year’s Commencement exercises.
In addition to Pemberton, five other honorary degree recipients will be recognized at Commencement: Sister Larraine Lauter, an Ursuline nun whose 40 years of service include work as a teacher, pastoral minister, environmentalist, and advocate for minority communities; Marta Martinez ’79, the executive director of Latino Arts RI, manager of La Galería del Pueblo Cultural Center in Central Falls, artist-in-residence at Trinity Repertory Theatre; Marifrances McGinn, PC’s first female vice president and formerly the College’s in-house legal counsel for 20 years; Dr. Steven Mecca ’64 and ’66 G (posthumously), a PC physics professor who also served as vice president of academic affairs and president of the Faculty Senate during his time at PC; and John Murphy, Sr., CEO of Beara Capital, LLC and founder of the Dr. Kenneth R. Walker ’57 & ‘83Hon. Scholarship at PC.
The Commencement ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 19 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in downtown Providence.