Internationally renowned human rights lawyer and social justice activist Bryan Stevenson to deliver EMU’s 2022 Commencement address

Bryan Stevenson, internationally renowned social justice activist and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, will deliver the keynote address during Eastern Mennonite University’s Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 8, 2022. 

Stevenson will also receive an honorary Doctor of Justice degree from EMU. He is the second recipient of the honor in the university’s 104-year history, joining Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist who graduated from EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in 2007.

“We are delighted that one of our most brilliant civil rights lawyers, Bryan Stevenson, is coming to EMU to deliver the keynote address to our 2022 graduates,” said President Susan Schultz Huxman. “We are equally excited to confer upon him an honorary degree, Doctor of Justice, in appreciation of his demonstrated extraordinary achievement in peacebuilding and social justice work.”

She notes: “Mr. Stevenson has spent his life in the company of the poor, the incarcerated, and the marginalized working to free people from wrongful or excessive punishment. He often invokes Micah 6:8, a passage central to the mission of EMU, to explain his passionate fight for justice and mercy in fixing a broken criminal justice system.”

The event will be livestreamed at EMU’s Facebook Live page [you do not need to be a member of Facebook to watch.]

Under Stevenson’s leadership, the Equal Justice Initiative has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. Stevenson has argued and won multiple cases at the United States Supreme Court, including a 2019 ruling protecting condemned prisoners who suffer from dementia and a landmark 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger. Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief, or release from prison for over 135 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row and won relief for hundreds of others wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced. 

Stevenson has led the creation of two highly acclaimed cultural sites which opened in 2018: the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. These new national landmark institutions chronicle the legacy of slavery, lynching, and racial segregation, and the connection to mass incarceration and contemporary issues of racial bias. 

A professor of law at New York University School of Law, he has received numerous awards for his work, including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize; the ABA Medal, the American Bar Association’s highest honor; the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union after he was nominated by United States Supreme Court Justice John Stevens; the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year by the National Association of Public Interest Lawyers; and the Olaf Palme Prize in Stockholm, Sweden, for international human rights. 

Stevenson’s award-winning and acclaimed book Just Mercy (One World, 2015) was EMU’s Common Read selection for 2022. The book won the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction from the American Library Association, and named by CNN as one of ten of the decade’s most influential books. It was made into a motion picture in 2019.

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