Education expert and Posse Foundation Founder and President Deborah Bial will deliver the keynote speech at Pomona College’s 123rd Commencement Exercises on Sunday, May 15, 2016, at Marston Quadrangle (located on College Avenue between Fourth and Sixth streets in Claremont, Calif.). Approximately 395 students from the Class of 2016 will receive their undergraduate degrees.
Novelist Vikram Chandra ’84 and noted Light and Space artist Helen Pashgian ’56 will also receive honorary degrees and address the audience during the ceremony.
Education strategist Deborah Bial is the founder and president of Posse Foundation, a youth leadership and college access organization that sends cohorts of talented students from diverse, underrepresented backgrounds to 51 selective college and university partners, which provide the students with full four-year scholarships. Ninety percent of Posse scholars graduate from college, a significantly higher rate than the national average, and there are more than 3,000 Posse alumni.
Pomona College has been a Posse partner since 2005, welcoming cohorts from Chicago. In 2015, the College added a second cohort focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) from Miami. Currently, there are 50 Posse students attending Pomona.
Bial’s expertise in education and leadership development and her work identifying and supporting promising students from less advantaged environments led to a MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” in 2007. She earned her B.A. from Brandeis University and an M.A. and Ed.D. from Harvard University. She received a $1.9 million Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant for her dissertation work assessing a new tool for non-traditional college admissions measures. She is also a founding partner of the consulting company Firefly Education.
Vikram Chandra ’84 is an award-winning novelist and short story author whose writings are patterned on the practice of Indian oral storytelling with layered narration, where every tale has in it the germs of another tale. He has written two novels, Sacred Games (2006) and Red Earth and Pouring Rain (1995); the nonfiction book Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code (2014), in which he explores connections between the culture of computer programming and classical Indian aesthetics; and the short story collection Love and Longing in Bombay. Both Geek Sublime and Sacred Games were National Book Critics Circle Award finalists, and Chandra has been awarded many other book awards, including a Salon Book Award, the Hutch Crossword Award for English Fiction, the Discovery Prize from the Paris Review, the David High Prize for Fiction and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Published Book Prize.
His work has been translated into 19 languages, and he received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2015. He earned a B.A. in English at Pomona College, an M.A. at Johns Hopkins University and an M.F.A. at the University of Houston. He is a senior lecturer in creative writing at UC Berkeley and divides his time between Berkeley, Calif., and Mumbai.
Helen Pashgian ’56, a visual artist who lives and works in Pasadena, Calif., is a pioneering member of the Light and Space art movement, which developed in Southern California in the 1960s around the use of industrial materials which offered unique optical and color possibilities. Pashgian explores the spatial qualities of color in light through sculptures of resin, fiberglass, plastic and coated glass. Pashgian’s solo exhibition locations include the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Pomona College Museum of Art, and the museums at UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine. She has also been featured in numerous group shows and her work is in the museum collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Norton Simon Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, the Orange County Museum of Art, and the Portland Art Museum, among many others. In 2014, LACMA mounted a large-scale sculptural installation of Pashgian’s work, which the Los Angeles Times called “elegant and austere, dramatic and sensual….”
Pashgian received her M.A. from Boston University. She received the 2013 Distinguished Women in the Arts award from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1986. She has been represented by Ace Gallery since 1986. Pashgian, an emerita trustee of Pomona College, served on the Board of Trustees from 1987 to 2007.