Acclaimed artist and activist to deliver commencement address


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The Vermont State Colleges Board of Trustees approved on March 23 NVU President Elaine Collins’ selection for this year’s commencement ceremony.
Famed singer, songwriter and social activist Cyndi Lauper will deliver the keynote address on May 19.
According to Collins, Lauper’s remarkable career and inspiring story made her an excellent candidate for the honor.

“Ms. Lauper is a creative genius who demonstrates the highest level of excellence as a songwriter, musician, entertainer, and activist,” she wrote in an email sent out to the NVU- Johnson Community, “She is a leading voice in issues of social justice and has used her art and entertaining ability to broaden understanding of marginalized populations. Her inspiring spirit will enrich our graduates as they embark to make a meaningful difference in their own communities.”

Lauper did not finish high school, but was persistent and got her GED. At age 17, she left her abusive home and tried to find herself through art. She spent some time in Canada, but then wound up in Vermont.

Lauper attended NVU- J (at the time Johnson State College) in 1973 and 1974 to study art while she worked odd jobs to support herself and her dog Sparkle. She never received a degree, but that will be remedied at commencement, when she will receive a Doctor of Letters Honorary Degree (Litt.D) according to Collins. The VSCS board also approved awarding the honorary doctorate at its March meeting.

Today, Lauper is a renowned singer/songwriter as well as an actress and activist, most notably recognized for her 1983 debut album “She’s So Unusual” featuring iconic 80’s hits such as “Time After Time,” “All Through The Night” and of course “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

She was the first female artist to have her debut album achieve four top-five hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and she went on to make more of a name for herself in the music community in following years. She has received multiple awards throughout her career including ones at the Grammys, Emmys, Tonys, MTV Video Music Awards, and American Music Awards.

Lauper is also known for her humanitarian work for LGBTQ+ Rights. Her “True Colors” tour in 2007 spanned the US and Canada, giving a dollar from every ticket sold to the Human Rights Campaign, promoting equality.

The decision for NVU- Lyndon’s keynote speaker was also announced on March 23: award-winning Vermont documentary filmmaker and theater producer Bess O’Brien.

O’Brien is known for her work on films about social and mental health issues. She also co-founded Barnet-based Kingdom County Productions with her husband, Jay Craven in 1991.

Her latest documentary, “Coming Home,” focuses on the lives of people returning home to their Vermont communities after being in prison, and highlights an innovative re-integration program, Circle of Support and Accountability.

The selection of Lauper has garnered national publicity, with stories appearing in media from Boston to California. Good publicity aside, Collins noted that both speakers exemplify the power of creativity and involvement in the battle for social justice.

“It is fitting that our speakers are active in work that is central to the NVU mission,” said Collins, “I am incredibly proud that Northern Vermont University will present speakers of such caliber who are creating positive change in our communities, our country, and the world.”
Lauper and O’Brien will preside over NVU’s first-ever commencement events following unification last July.