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Renowned Human Rights And Civil Liberties Pioneer Congressman John Lewis To Address Rensselaer Graduates At 207th Commencement

Retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, Xerox Chairman and CEO Ursula M. Burns, and Microsoft and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Pioneer Patty Stonesifer Also Will Receive Honorary Degrees May 25

TROY, N.Y., April 4, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-GA) - one of the nation's most dedicated and courageous civil rights leaders - will address Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduates at the 207th Commencement May 25, 2013. He will join a group of high-level business, military, and nonprofit foundation leaders who will participate in the graduation ceremonies.

Lewis will receive an honorary degree, along with Retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, Xerox Chairman and CEO Ursula M. Burns, and Microsoft and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pioneer Patty Stonesifer.

"Congressman Lewis is indeed a 'profile in courage,' an extraordinary example of the power of an individual to change the world," President Shirley Ann Jackson said. "At about the same age as our students, he stood up for what was right by sitting down at lunch counters, walking across a bridge in Selma, and marching on Washington. In doing so, with a persistent commitment to non-violence, he helped lead our nation through the civil rights era to a new day. Long considered the 'conscience of the U.S. Congress,' for more than a half century he has remained steadfast in his pursuit of equality, justice, and fairness for all. We are honored to have this Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and true American hero address the graduates at Rensselaer."

"We also look forward to honoring and hearing from three other influential leaders in corporate America, the military, and the foundation and nonprofit sectors," President Jackson added. "As chairman and CEO of Xerox, Ursula Burns has led the transformation of a Fortune 500 company, and the conversation on the importance of inviting young people to pursue math and science careers. As former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen guided the U. S. armed services through a shift in mission and in culture. As Chair of the White House Council on Community Solutions, and a pioneer in Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Patty Stonesifer has remained focused on creating access, reducing inequities, and expanding opportunities for others. Each has been global in reach and profound in impact, and we are honored by their participation in our Commencement."

Congressman John Lewis:

Before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the Fifth Congressional District in Georgia in 1986, Lewis compiled an impressive track record that led many civil and human rights leaders to call him one of the most courageous persons the civil rights movement ever produced. Roll Call magazine once said, " John Lewis ... is a genuine American hero and moral leader who commands widespread respect in the chamber."

As a young man from Troy, Ala., Lewis was inspired by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a student at Fisk University, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. During the height of the civil rights movement, from 1963 to 1966, Lewis was named chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which he helped form. SNCC was largely responsible for organizing student activism in the movement.

While still a young man, John Lewis became a nationally recognized leader. By 1963, he was dubbed one of the "Big Six" leaders of the civil rights movement. At the age of 23, he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in August, 1963.

In 1964, Lewis coordinated SNCC efforts to organize voter registration drives and community action programs during the Mississippi Freedom Summer. The following year, Lewis helped spearhead one of the most seminal moments of the civil rights movement.  Hosea Williams, another notable civil rights leader, and Lewis led more than 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965, intending to march from Selma to Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights. The marchers were attacked by Alabama state troopers in a brutal confrontation that became known as "Bloody Sunday," which helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

After leaving SNCC in 1966, he continued his commitment to the civil rights movement as associate director of the Field Foundation and his participation in the Southern Regional Council's voter registration programs. Lewis went on to become the director of the Voter Education Project. In 1977, Lewis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to direct more than 250,000 volunteers of ACTION, the federal volunteer agency.

He was elected to the Atlanta City Council in 1981, and was elected to Congress in 1986. He is Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party in leadership in the House, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, a member of its Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, and ranking member of its Subcommittee on Oversight.

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