Congressman John Lewis to Speak at School of Visual Arts 2014 Commencement Exercises

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Thursday, May 15, 2014, 1:00pm; The Theater at Madison Square Garden

School of Visual Arts announced today that 14-term Georgia Congressman John Lewis, often described as "one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,” has accepted the College’s invitation to speak at this year’s commencement exercises. The event takes place on Thursday, May 15, 2014 at 1:00pm at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza, New York City. The ceremony is a ticketed event and open to students and invited guests only. It will be streamed live via a webcast at

Admired by many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the United States Congress, John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties and building what he calls "The Beloved Community” in America. He is the co-author, with SVA alumnus Nate Powell (BFA 2010 Cartooning) and writer Andrew Aydin, of March: Book One (Top Shelf Productions, 2013), the #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel. He is also the author of Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change (Hyperion, 2012), winner of the 2012 NAACP Image Award for Best Literary Work-Biography.

John Lewis helped spearhead one of the most seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement: the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. What began as a peaceful, orderly protest, organized to draw attention to the need for voting rights in the state, became a brutal attack by Alabama state troopers.

News broadcasts and photographs of “Bloody Sunday” revealed the senseless cruelty of the segregated South, helping to hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Born the son of sharecroppers in Alabama in 1940, John Lewis grew up on his family's farm and attended segregated public schools. He was inspired as a young boy by the activism surrounding the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements and the human rights struggle in the United States ever since.

As a university student, Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville. He risked his life as a Freedom Rider in 1961 to challenge segregation at bus terminals across the South. As a young man he was dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. At age 23 he was an architect of and a keynote speaker at the historic March on Washington in 1963.

Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. He continued his commitment to the Civil Rights Movement as a leader in the Voter Education Project, transforming the nation's political climate by adding nearly four million minority voters to the rolls.

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, advocating for ethics in government and neighborhood preservation. In 1986 he was elected to Congress, where he continues to serve as U.S. Representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District. He is Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee, a member of its Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support and Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on Oversight.

John Lewis holds a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University, and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary. His numerous awards include the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, granted by President Barack Obama; the Lincoln Medal from the historic Ford’s Theatre; the National Education Association’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Award; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize; and honors from the Academy of Excellence, Georgetown University and the NAACP. He is the only recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for Lifetime Achievement.

John Lewis’s biography is entitled Walking With The Wind: A Memoir of the Movement. He is also the subject of two other books: Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement, by Ann Bausum; and John Lewis in the Lead, by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson, with illustrations by famous Georgia artist, Bennie Andrews.

John Lewis will join a distinguished group of leaders in the arts, humanities and public service who have spoken at SVA’s commencement exercises in past years, including cultural critic Greil Marcus, multimedia artist Laurie Anderson, playwrights Edward Albee and Tony Kushner, historian Robert A. Caro, Governor Mario Cuomo, biologist Dr. Gerald Edelman, opera singer Ronan Tynan and actor B.D. Wong as well as New York Times columnists Maureen Dowd, Nicholas Kristof and Frank Rich.

SVA President David Rhodes will confer BFA, MA, MAT, MFA and MPS degrees on more than 1,100 degree candidates in SVA’s 2014 graduation class at the commencement exercises.

School of Visual Arts is a comprehensive college of art and design offering the degree of Bachelor of Fine Arts in advertising; animation; cartooning; computer art, computer animation and visual effects; film and video; fine arts; design; illustration; interior design; photography; and visual and critical studies; Master of Fine Arts in art criticism and writing; art practice; computer art; design; design for social innovation; fine arts; illustration; interaction design; photography, products of design, social documentary; and visual narrative; the degree of Master of Professional Studies in art therapy; branding; digital photography; fashion photography; and live action short film; the degree of Master of Arts in critical theory and the arts; curatorial practice; and design research, writing and criticism; and the degree of Master of Arts in Teaching in art education.

SVA alumni include: fine artists Inka Essenhigh, Rodney Alan Greenblat, Keith Haring, Suzanne McClelland, Elizabeth Peyton, Alexis Rockman, Kenny Scharf, Gary Simmons and Sarah Sze; photographers Guy Aroch, Renée Cox, Justine Kurland and Lorna Simpson. Others include Paul Davis, principal, Paul Davis Studio; Sal DeVito, creative director, DeVito/Verdi; Pete Hamill, author and journalist; Patrick McDonnell, creator, Mutts comic strip; Bill Plympton, Academy-Award nominee, Guard Dog; Bryan Singer, director, X-Men, Usual Suspects; Carlos Saldanha, director, Ice Age: The Meltdown and Rio; Harris Savides, cinematographer, Zodiac and Milk.

School of Visual Arts has been a leader in the education of artists, designers and creative professionals for more than six decades. With a faculty of distinguished working professionals, a dynamic curriculum and an emphasis on critical thinking, SVA is a catalyst for innovation and social responsibility. Comprised of more than 6,000 students at its Manhattan campus and 35,000 alumni in 100 countries, SVA also represents one of the most influential artistic communities in the world. For information about the College’s 32 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit

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Lisa Batchelder
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