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Playwright, actor, and professor Anna Deavere Smith named 2020 Commencement speaker

Anna Deavere Smith, a playwright and actor

Update: The 2020 commencement ceremony has been postponed. Event details will be released at a later date. 

Anna Deavere Smith, a playwright and actor who uses theater to explore important issues in America today, will deliver the Commencement address at Loyola University Maryland’s 168th Commencement Exercises. The Commencement Exercises will be held Saturday, May 16, 2020, at 11 a.m. at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, Md.

Loyola is sharing this news with our community using a video announcement

Smith has created more than 15 one-woman shows that delve into controversial topics that explore what she calls the “complex identities of America.” Her most recent play, Notes from the Field, which looks at the school-to-prison pipeline and injustice and inequality in low-income communities, won an Obie Award, the 2017 Nortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show, and was named one of the Top 10 Plays of the year by Time magazine. Another play has been named a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize, and one was nominated for a Tony.

Smith will receive a doctor of humane letters, honoris causa, from Loyola during the ceremony.

“Every year we try to select a Commencement speaker who can deliver a strong, relevant message to our graduating students, and Anna Deavere Smith certainly has compelling insight to share,” said Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., president. “She’s an accomplished artist and intellectual who inspires us—through her work—to delve more deeply into issues that are so important to our time, such as those related to race, social inequality, and health care.”

Smith has received the National Humanities Medal, presented by President Obama, and, in 2015, was named the Jefferson Lecturer, the nation’s highest honor in the humanities. She also is the recipient of the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and most recently, the 2017 Ridenhour Courage Prize and the George Polk Career Award.

Smith is an actor on ABC’s hit series Black-ish and the ABC legal drama For the People. She is also known for her role as the hospital administrator on Showtime’s Nurse Jackie and the National Security Advisor on NBC’s The West Wing. Her films include The American President, Rachel Getting Married, and Philadelphia.

The founding director of the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, Smith is a professor at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Her books include Letters to a Young Artist and Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines.

She has been an artist-in-residence at MTV Networks, the Ford Foundation, and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Smith was appointed to Bloomberg Philanthropies’ 2017 U.S. Mayors Challenge Committee, a nationwide competition urging innovative solutions for the toughest issues confronting U.S. cities. 

She holds honorary degrees from Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Julliard, among others.

Also honored at Commencement will be:

• Nick, MBA’84, and Suzie Simon, M.Ed.’81, whose gift helped Loyola’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, will receive the President’s Medal;

• Father Michael White, ’80, author and pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Md., will receive the Carroll Medal;

• Thomas Scheye, Ph.D., Loyola Distinguished Service Professor who has taught English at Loyola since 1970 and serves as senior advisor to the president for planning and strategy, will receive the Newman Medal; and

• Mercy Medical Center, one of Loyola’s long-time community partners including through a five-year partnership with Loyola’s Health Outreach Baltimore program, will receive the Milch Award.

More information about Loyola’s 2020 Commencement Exercises is available at