Roanoke College

William Coleman Jr. to speak at commencement

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  • William Coleman Jr. to speak at commencement

  • 03/06/09
  • SALEM, Va. - The Honorable William Thaddeus Coleman Jr. will attend Roanoke College's Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 2. Coleman will give the Commencement Address and will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from Roanoke College. John S. Shannon '52, a retired trustee of Roanoke College, will receive an honorary doctor of commerce degree at the ceremony.

    President Gerald Ford appointed Coleman on March 7, 1975, to serve as the nation's fourth Secretary of Transportation. He was only the second African-American to serve in a Cabinet-level position. As an attorney, he was one of the lead strategists and coauthor of the legal brief in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 in which the U.S. Supreme Court held racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. He worked closely with Thurgood Marshall on this and other important civil rights cases.

    Coleman is a graduate of the Philadelphia public schools, and he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School. He served as a law clerk to Judge Herbert Goodrich of the U.S. Court of Appeals and clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. By taking this prestigious position almost 60 years ago, he became the first African-American to serve as a Supreme Court law clerk.

    "I cannot think of another individual who so successfully balanced public service with the private practice of law," Dr. Todd Peppers said. Peppers is the author of Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of Supreme Court Law Clerks (Stanford University Press, 2006.) "Bill Coleman is truly a pioneer who has made his mark not only in advancing the cause of civil rights in America, but also as an advisor to presidents and an attorney to some of the largest corporations in America."

    Coleman was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to civilians by the United States, in 1996. He served as a member of the NAACP's national legal committee, director and member of its executive committee, and president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Coleman also was a senior consultant and assistant counsel to the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. He is presently a senior partner with the law firm of O'Melveny & Myers.

    Shannon graduated from Roanoke College in 1952 with a degree in economics. He continued his education at the University of Virginia Law School, graduating in 1955. Prior to being appointed to the College's Board of Trustees in 1974, Shannon served three years as president of Roanoke's Associates Committee and was the Special Gifts Chairperson for the College's New Priorities Campaign. As a board member, he was appointed President of the Executive Committee in 1978 and also served as Chairman. Shannon is now retired from his position as Executive Vice President of Law for Norfolk Southern Corporation.

    More than 450 students are expected to participate in this year's Commencement.

    Roanoke College's baccalaureate service will be on Friday, May 1, in the Bast Center. Rev. Paul Henrickson, Timothy L. Pickle Dean of the Chapel at Roanoke, will be the featured speaker.

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  • gereaux@roanoke.edu