Purchase College Commencement Will Honor Author Edwidge Danticat and Arts

Gina Belafonte

Purchase College, SUNY will hold its 51st annual commencement ceremony on Friday, May 12, 2023, at 12:30 p.m. at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. Degrees will be conferred upon nearly 800 graduating scholars representing dozens of majors and several countries.


This year, acclaimed author and poet Edwidge Danticat will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree and award-winning producer, director, and arts activist Gina Belafonte ’83 (acting) will receive the President’s Award for Distinguished Alumni.


Frankie Kadir Bademci-Vaughan, a New Media and Theatre and Performance graduate will offer remarks on behalf of the senior class. Oliver Zerouali, a Vocal Performance major from the Conservatory of Music, will perform the National Anthem. Top Shelf Party Band, which is comprised of alumni from 2003 to 2009, will perform throughout the ceremony as well.


President Milagros “Milly” Peña said, “I look forward to honoring our students, who have achieved remarkable academic and artistic success in this very challenging time. I have no doubt that the intellectual curiosity, creativity, adaptability, flexibility, and resilience that they have shown during their academic careers will serve them well upon graduation and throughout their lives.


We are also pleased to welcome our honorary degree and distinguished alumni award recipients, for what I am sure will be a truly inspiring day for students and their families.”


Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Edwidge Danticat is the author of many books, including Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994), an Oprah Book Club selection, Krik? Krak! (1996), a finalist for the National Book Award; and Everything Inside, named the best book of 2019 by NPR, Time, and BuzzFeed.


Her 2007 memoir, Brother, I’m Dying, was a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. Her many recognitions include a MacArthur Fellowship, honorary degrees from Smith College, Yale University, and the University of the West Indies Open Campus, and the 2017 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.


During the 2019-20 academic year, Ms. Danticat was honored with the Durst Distinguished Chair for Literature at Purchase College.

Social justice leader, change maker, and artivist Gina Belafonte has spent her life at the intersection of arts and activism. As Co-Founder and Executive Director of Sankofa, she embodies her father Harry Belafonte’s work to educate, motivate, and activate artists and allies in service of grassroots movements and equitable change. Belafonte and Sankofa enlist the support of today’s most celebrated artists and influential individuals, in collaboration with grassroots partners, to elevate the voices of the disenfranchised and promote peace, justice, and quality, as well as cultural and civic engagement. She is also the Lead Producer of the award-winning and internationally acclaimed documentary Sing Your Song, among countless other projects. Most recently, Belafonte expanded her work for equity rights by launching a virtual reality mental health program, expanding access to this vital care using cutting edge VR/AR technology. 


Belafonte and her work have been profiled in Elle, AfroTech, Essence, for Newsy, and more. Her arts and activism initiatives include directing the award-winning hip-hop spoken word musical Lyrics from Lockdown, which addresses mistaken identity, mass incarceration, and police brutality, and producing the Many Rivers to Cross Social Justice Arts and Music Festival, uniting 40 artists and 50 social justice organizations to center voting rights, mass incarceration, and poverty. Her collaborations include: For Freedoms on the 50 State Initiative and the reimagining of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms, INTO ACT!ON, and many more.