Pomona College Announces 2023 Commencement Speakers

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Civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill and Hall of Fame swimmer Penny Lee Dean ’77 will address the 454 graduates of the Class of 2023 at Pomona College’s commencement on May 14. The College will confer an honorary degree on both Ifill and Dean during the ceremony. Trustee Emeritus George E. “Buddy” Moss ’52 will receive posthumously the Trustees’ Medal of Merit.

Graduation events start on Friday, May 12. Information is available at pomona.edu/commencement.

Sherrilyn Ifill

Sherrilyn Ifill is a distinguished civil rights lawyer, voting rights advocate and scholar. She is currently a senior fellow at the Ford Foundation, having recently stepped down after 10 years as the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the nation’s premier civil rights law organization.

Ifill began her career as a fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union. She then joined the staff of the LDF as an assistant counsel and litigated voting rights cases for five years.

Ifill then joined the faculty at University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore. There, she pioneered a series of law clinics, including one of the earliest in the country focused on challenging legal barriers to the reentry of formerly incarcerated persons into the community after release from prison.

Ifill returned to LDF as president and director-counsel, and played a prominent role for nearly a decade in shaping the national conversation about race and civil rights. She led the organization in groundbreaking litigation in the areas of voting rights, economic justice and education and took a leading role in confronting police violence against unarmed Black people.

Ifill graduated from Vassar College with a bachelor’s degree in English and earned her J.D. from New York University School of Law. She was named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in 2021. She is a recipient of the Radcliffe Medal, the Thurgood Marshall Award from the American Bar Association and the Gold Medal from the New York State Bar Association. She will receive the prestigious Brandeis Medal in March.

Penny Lee Dean ’77

Penny Lee Dean is one of world’s greatest marathon swimmers. As an open water swimmer, she swam the Catalina Channel and broke the world record by one hour and 32 minutes, a record that still stands today. In 1978, she swam the English Channel, breaking the men’s world record by one hour and five minutes. During her swimming career she set 13 world records and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1996. In 1979, she was elected to be the U.S. national coach for open water, serving in that role for 12 years.

At Pomona, Dean was a six-time All-American. She returned to the College and coached and taught for 26 years. As the women’s swimming coach, her record was 203-79 and included 17 conference championships. The team set 118 school records, 71 conference records and nine national records and included 138 All-American athletes. She also coached the women’s water polo team, winning the U.S. Division II national championship in 1993 and helping the program become the first varsity water polo program in the country.

Dean has authored three books on swimming and an autobiography. She received the International Swimming Hall of Fame writer’s award in 2014.

Dean majored in history at Pomona College and graduated with honors in 1977. She subsequently earned a master’s degree in physical education from Cal Poly Pomona and an Ed.D. in education/sports management from the United States Sport Academy.

Trustees’ Medal of Merit

Trustee Emeritus George E. “Buddy” Moss ’52 will receive posthumously the Trustees’ Medal of Merit. This recognition is given to persons who have rendered outstanding service to Pomona or who have brought distinction to this institution through their actions or achievements.

A member of the Board of Trustees from 1995–2004, Moss also served on several alumni reunion committees. Moss was a dedicated member of the Pomona College community whose support of Pomona’s academic programs will be felt for generations into the future.

In addition to his volunteerism, Moss made a significant impact on the College through his generous philanthropic support. He made possible many programs for faculty and students, including gifts to establish the George E. Moss Community Partnerships Fund, the George E. and Nancy O. Moss Professorship in Economics, the Henry G. Lee ’37 Professorship in Poetry, the Peter W. Stanley Chair of Linguistics and Cognitive Science and the Roscoe Moss Professorship in Chemistry.