Marian Wright Edelman to give BMC commencement speech
By biconews On 29 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Juliana Rosati

Considered by many to be the country’s most distinguished children’s rights advocate, Marian Wright Edelman will be Bryn Mawr’s speaker at the graduation of the Class of 2000. A renowned civil rights activist and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), Edelman has worked all her life to help poor and disadvantaged people. “We are very excited to have Marian Wright Edelman as our commencement speaker,” said Brynne McBride, co-president of the senior class. “She has been such an accomplished person and is a role model for all of us.”

Edelman graduated from Spelman College and Yale Law School. In 1964 she became the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar. From 1964 to 1968, she directed the Legal Defense and Educational Fund Office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1968 she worked as a counsel for the Poor People’s March organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before his death. She then moved to Washington, D.C. and established a public interest law firm, the Washington Research Project, which would become the parent body of the Children’s Defense Fund. For two years she worked as the Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University, and then in 1973 she founded the CDF in Washington, D.C.

The Children’s Defense Fund is a private, nonprofit organization that strives to give voice to the concerns of all children, especially those who are poor and disabled, and members of “minority” groups. The CDF works to educate the nation about children’s needs, promoting preventative

measures to keep children healthy, out of trouble, in school, and to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies. The organization fought for the landmark 1990 federal act for better childcare, which secured more than 3 billion federal dollars for daycare facilities and other programs. This legislation is considered by many to be the federal government’s first acknowledgement of children’s needs. As stated in its website, the CDF wants to ensure every child “a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start.”

Mary Osinm, Associate Professor of Sociology at Bryn Mawr, described herself as “overjoyed” to hear that Edelman will be coming to Bryn Mawr. “Edelman,” Osirim said, “is an excellent choice” for the graduation speaker, and has been “a pioneer in terms of her work with children, especially those of lower incomes.”

At Bryn Mawr, the process of choosing a graduation speaker involves input from the presidents of each class, the president of SGA, members of the faculty, and representatives from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. Senior class requests are determined by having students vote in the second semester of the junior year. Each group represented at the committee provides suggestions, and a list of possible speakers is determined. The committee then selects people from the list who are able or likely to attend. President Vickers, Dean Tidmarsh, and Nell Booth, Executive Assistant to the President, sit on the committee as well.

Nell Booth believes Edelman “is going to be a really valuable voice” at commencement, and “will speak compellingly to the level of need that still exists among some parts of American society.” “We’re thrilled that she was available to accept [our invitation],” Booth said.

Edelman has written a great deal about the causes she champions. She is the author of five books. In her most recent, Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors (1999), she pays homage to those who have inspired her throughout her life. The list includes her parents and teachers, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Fannie Lou Hamer, William Sloane Coffin, Ella Baker and Mae Bertha Carter. Her other books include Families in Peril: An Agenda for SociaI Change (1987), The Measure of our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours (1992), Guide My Feet: Meditations and Prayers on Loving and Working for Children (1995), and Stand for Children (1998).

In addition, the CDF’s website includes two columns, both written by Edelman: the weekly “Child Watch” and the bimonthly “A Voice for Children.” In “A Voice for Children” she speaks about, among other things, the necessity of after-school programs, gun control, and prevention of teen smoking to protect America’s children.

To find out more about Marian Wright Edelman and the CDF, visit their website at

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