2017 Speakers

Undergraduate Ceremony: Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is a multi-hyphenate talent—acclaimed short story writer, poet and novelist, with a foray into film. The man behind the The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a prolific writer of more than two dozen books that span genres, including The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Thunder Boy Jr., What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned and his latest, a memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.

A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, Alexie’s work is greatly influenced by his heritage and growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Wash.

The author is the recipient of numerous literary awards such as the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Hemingway Citation for Best First Fiction and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. 
In 1998 the movie Smoke Signals, which Alexie wrote and co-produced, was a hit among critics and audiences alike, nabbing the Audience Award at that year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Alexie, who received an Honorary Doctorate from Seattle University in 2000, was a keynote speaker at the university’s Search for Meaning Book Festival, where he shared his poetry, observations and short stories on the oddities and poignancy of life. Today, Alexie and his family reside in Seattle.

Graduate Ceremony: Marguerite Barankitse

Marguerite “Maggy” Barankitse has dedicated her life to helping others—particularly the most vulnerable children and families in Burundi, Africa, whose lives are marred by ongoing civil conflict. Her work, through her Maison Shalom (“House of Peace”) organization, provides a sense of safety and real hope to young people there.
In 2008, Barankitse was at Seattle University to accept a $1 million prize from the Opus Foundation, given annually to a faith-based humanitarian leader and their organization.

Located in central Africa, Burundi is a little-known country with a long history of ethnic strife between the Tutsis and Hutus. Barankitse understands deeply the human toll of the conflict.

On Oct. 24, 1993, she was working for the Catholic bishop of Ruyigi, in eastern Burundi, Africa, when ethnic Tutsis stormed the bishop’s residence and killed 72 Hutus. Amid the chaos and confusion, Barankitse was able to save 25 children that day and from that point on was committed to helping the youngest survivors and victims of violence. It has become her life’s work.  “I believe it’s a mission, it’s a vocation,” Barankitse said during her visit to Seattle U. “I am full of hope. This is the hand of God at work.”

In addition to the Opus Prize, Barankitse is the recipient of several awards for her humanitarian efforts. This includes the 2016 Aurora Prize and the Nansen Refugee Award from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  Barankitse was forced to flee her country to Rwanda, where she resides today and where she continue to operate Maison Shalom.