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Higher Education Leader Selected to Speak at 2017 Commencement

SLU will also honor influential Jesuit scholar and Ferguson Commission leaders during the May 20 ceremony.


From left: Commencement speaker Diana Natalicio, Ph.D., and honorary doctorate recipients  Rich McClure, Rev. Starsky Wilson and John Padberg, S.J.

 ST. LOUIS (March 21, 2017) — The president of the University of Texas at El Paso, Diana Natalicio, Ph.D., will return to her alma mater, Saint Louis University, in May to deliver the commencement address to SLU’s 2017 spring graduates. The ceremony begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 20, in Chaifetz Arena.

Included among TIME magazine’s 2016 list of the 100 most influential people in the world, Natalicio is an alumna of Saint Louis University. She earned a bachelor's degree in Spanish in 1961. Since 1988, she has been president of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Previously she served UTEP as vice president for academic affairs, dean of liberal arts, chair of the modern languages department and professor of linguistics.

SLU President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., noted, “Dr. Natalicio is intimately familiar with the complexities of students from marginalized groups accessing education. She has successfully undertaken the task of building meaningful, long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with the surrounding communities.”

During Natalicio’s tenure as president, UTEP’s enrollment has grown from nearly 15,000 to more than 23,000 students, who reflect the demographics of the Paso del Norte region from which 90 percent of them come. More than 80 percent are Mexican American, and another 5 percent commute to the campus from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

Natalicio has served on numerous boards, including the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, ACT, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the American Council on Education. She was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans and by President Bill Clinton to the National Science Board. 

In 2015, the Carnegie Corporation of New York honored Natalicio with its prestigious Academic Leadership Award in recognition of her achievements in transforming UTEP into a national public research university. Since 1988, UTEP’s annual research expenditures grew from $6 million to more than $90 million per year, and doctoral programs from one to 21.

In 2011, the president of Mexico presented her the Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca, the highest recognition bestowed on foreign nationals. Natalicio has received the TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence and the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education, and was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. She also has received several honorary doctorates.

“As a first-generation, modest income, commuter student, she blazed a trail for students of marginalized groups, ultimately showing that success ought not to be achieved at the expense of relinquishing our past,” Pestello said. “Instead she has shown how being astutely aware of the needs of students, families and communities can be used to generate systematic change.”

Following her commencement address, Natalicio will receive an honorary doctor of science degree from the University. SLU will also bestow honorary doctorates on John Padberg, S.J., Rev. Starsky Wilson and Rich McClure.

Padberg, also a SLU alumnus (A&S ’49, Grad ’54), is an internationally recognized scholar and author. He was for 28 years director and editor of the Institute of Jesuit Sources in St. Louis, which has published more then 100 works about the history and spirituality of the Society of Jesus. He has strong ties to SLU; from 1964 to 1973, he was a professor of history and academic vice president here. From 1975-85, he was the president of Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While at Weston, he served as founding president of the International Conference of Catholic Theological Institutions. He also was the editor of Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits from 1986-2002. A native St. Louisan, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1944.

McClure and Wilson co-chaired the Ferguson Commission, which was appointed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon in November 2014 to study and recommend actions to address the underlying causes of the social unrest in the St. Louis region.

McClure most recently was president of UniGroup, a $1.7 billion agent-owned specialized transportation and relocation company. He retired in 2014 and now runs Spero Advisors. He serves on the board of the United Way of Greater St. Louis and is chairman of the board of trustees of St. Louis Children’s Hospital. He has been a member of the regional board of Teach for America since 2006.  He also is past chairman of the St. Louis Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He and his wife are on the board of governors of Opportunity International, a faith-based microfinance organization that operates in 22 developing countries.

Wilson is president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, a faith-based, grant-making organization devoted to making child well being a civic priority in the St. Louis region. He also is pastor of Saint John’s Church, where he established the Beloved Community Conference to resource local social justice ministries. Wilson serves on several national boards including Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, the United Church of Christ Cornerstone Fund and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Locally, he’s on the boards for the United Way, St. Louis Regional Chamber, Teach for America and the Mayor's Commission on Children, Youth and Families.

“When our students leave our University, they undertake a worthy responsibility,” Pestello said, “to carry the mission of SLU and the Society of Jesuits out into the world and allow it to inform everything they do. Our honorary degree recipients are outstanding role models for our graduates. Father Padberg is a renowned expert on the Society of Jesus, and it is a privilege to recognize him, a SLU alumnus, for his extraordinary contributions to Jesuit scholarship worldwide and Catholic higher education as a whole.

“Rich McClure and Rev. Wilson are stalwart members of the St. Louis community who work relentlessly to not only promote justice and peace in our region, but also to ensure equity becomes a matter of urgency to civic leaders,” Pestello continued. “Saint Louis University is pleased to honor them for their outstanding commitment to our hometown and for their example of how to accomplish the work we have yet to do.”

SLU Provost Nancy Brickhouse, Ph.D., added: “Our May commencement is sure to be a memorable event for our graduates and their families. We all look forward to hearing Dr. Natalicio’s words of wisdom as well as applaud the accomplishments of all of our honorees.”

About Saint Louis University
Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of nearly 13,000 students on two campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of nearly 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to serve a higher purpose and seek the greater good.