Attorney, social justice advocate named 2023 Commencement speaker

Media Credit: Photo by Jay Godwin and courtesy of LBJ Library under Creative Commons

Officials will award Stevenson, the author of The New York Times bestseller “Just Mercy” and the executive director of the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

Social justice advocate, attorney and author Bryan Stevenson will address the Class of 2023 during this year’s Commencement, officials announced Monday.

Officials will award Stevenson, the author of The New York Times bestseller “Just Mercy” and the executive director of the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, the release states. Stevenson founded EJI in Alabama in 1989 and has led the organization in its goal of advocating for prisoners who were wrongly convicted, denied proper legal representation or whose trials were influenced by racial bias.

“George Washington University has a long history of producing outstanding graduates who have made a profound difference in the world,” Stevenson said in the release. “I am honored to have the opportunity to speak to them on such an extraordinary day in the life of every university student.”

Stevenson’s career began in 1985 as a staff attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, and he has served as a member of the New York University School of Law’s faculty since 1998, according to the release. Stevenson has earned an array of awards and honors since founding EJI, including the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Medal of Liberty, the MacArthur Foundation’s “Genius” Prize and the Olof Palme Prize for international human rights, according to the release.

Stevenson graduated from Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania with a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy in 1981. He then continued his education at Harvard University where he graduated in 1985 with a master’s in public policy and a law degree.

His 2014 book “Just Mercy” details injustices in the American legal system and Stevenson’s work to overturn the conviction of Walter McMillian, a Black man wrongly sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit. “Just Mercy” was adapted into a 2019 film of the same name, which featured Michael B. Jordan playing Stevenson and Jamie Foxx playing McMillian.

Stevenson was also the subject of the HBO documentary “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality,” which won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Social Issue Documentary.

“As an advocate for human rights, representative for the wrongly convicted and unfairly sentenced and leader of anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts, Bryan Stevenson will serve as an inspiration to our graduates,” interim University President Mark Wrighton said in the release. “We are honored that Mr. Stevenson will provide the keynote address at our Commencement ceremony on the National Mall.”

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