Union prepares to host its 224th Commencement

Publication Date

Nearly 500 students will receive degrees at Union's 224th Commencement at 10 a.m. Sunday, June 17, on Hull Plaza.

In presiding over his final commencement ceremony at the College, President Stephen C. Ainlay was selected to be the featured speaker by the Board of Trustees. He and his wife, Judith, will receive honorary doctorate of letters degrees.

Ainlay announced last August that he would step down as Union’s 18th president at the end of the academic year. When he ends his tenure June 30, Ainlay will have completed 12 years of distinguished leadership at Union.

Under Ainlay, Union has steadily grown its applicant pool to the largest ever this past year, resulting in the most selective admissions process in history. The College completed its largest campaign and one of the largest for any liberal arts college, raising $258 million. That campaign enabled Union to build or renovate 14 major structures. Union has nearly doubled the size of the Annual Fund, which directly covers the actual costs of educating students.

Union is the most diverse and global it has ever been, and it has established Multicultural Affairs and Title IX offices to make the College a more inclusive and safer community.

In 2007, Ainlay made the College a charter signatory of the Climate Commitment, adopting a plan to reduce the College’s carbon footprint and provide research and education.

He has overseen two strategic plans that have advanced the College’s initiatives in admissions, development, sustainability, community service, diversity and inclusion.

Last spring, the College broke ground on its most ambitious project to date: the Integrated Science and Engineering Complex. The $100-million, 142,000-square-foot facility will promote visibility and connections across disciplines. The building will house primarily six major departments: Biology, Chemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Physics and Astronomy.

Ainlay is a sociologist with a distinguished record as a scholar, teacher and administrator. His research projects have focused on investigations of blindness, aging, spirituality and various aspects of Mennonite life, all aimed at better understanding the ways in which people find meaning in their lives.

Before joining Union, Ainlay spent 23 years at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. At Holy Cross, he was a professor of sociology and held a number of administrative positions, including as director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of the College.

A native of Goshen, Ind., he earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Goshen College, and both his master’s and Ph.D. in sociology from Rutgers University. Ainlay held a post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton University. He was also a visiting scholar at St. Edmund’s College in Cambridge University and a summer fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, Calif.

The College will also award an honorary doctorate of science degree to Charles M. Lieber, a chemist and pioneer in the fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology. The Joshua and Beth Friedman University Professor at Harvard, Lieber has made numerous advances in the field of nanoscale bio-electronics, developing nanoscale wire-like structures with applications in fields as diverse as electronics, nanocomputing, neurobiology, and medicine.

He received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Franklin and Marshall College and his Ph.D. at Stanford University. He taught at Columbia University before joining Harvard in 1991. In 2015, he was appointed Chemistry and Chemical Biology department chair. He also holds a joint appointment with the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard.

The recipient of numerous honors, including the National Institute of Health’s Pioneer Award (twice), the Von Hippel Award, Willard Gibbs Medal and Wolf Prize in Chemistry, Lieber is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Lieber was nominated by Rebecca Cortez, associate professor of mechanical engineering.