PEP Holds First Graduation for Class of 2019

On May 22, 2019, PEP students, their friends and family, and members of the WashU PEP community came together to celebrate the inaugural graduation of 10 students graduating with their Associate in Arts degrees from the School of Continuing & Professional Studies (CAPS) at Washington University in St. Louis.

All 10 graduates received Associate of Art degrees. This degree required students to take general requirement courses, that covered moral reasoning, cultural diversity, writing, natural science and mathematics, humanities, social sciences and more. Then, students chose a specific concentration – humanities, social sciences or natural science & mathematics and completed 18 units of that area. Students also took general elective courses to reach the 60 total units required for their degrees.

The Ceremony

The graduation ceremony was hosted at the MECC campus. Students family members were able to attend, as well as WashU faculty and professors. Chancellor Mark Wrighton was among the many WashU faculty in attendance. He was joined by Dean Mark Rollins of CAPS, Dean Jennifer Smith of the College of Arts & Sciences and Dean Barbara Schaal of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences. 

The ceremony also paid tribute to Professor Maggie Garb, co-founder of PEP, who passed away earlier in the year. PEP Student Danien Cobb spoke about her at the ceremony (his speech can be read here.) Many PEP students also contributed to a commemoration book for Maggie, which was passed out at graduation. The book can be viewed here

Graduation Speaker
Stanley Andrisse, an Assistant Professor at the Howard University College of Medicine and John Hopkins University was the graduation speaker.

Originally from North Ferguson, Missouri, Andrisse was arrested for the first time when he was 14. By his 20s, he had three felony convictions and was facing 10 years in prison for drug trafficking. He was told that he was a “career criminal” with “no hope for change.”  However, when Andrisse finished his sentence, he wanted to prove people wrong. He applied to many different graduate schools, and ultimately, only with the help of a former college professor who vouched for him, he was accepted to St. Louis University, where he earned a PhD in Physiology and an MBA, graduating two years early and at the top of his class. Today, while being an endocrinologist and professor at two universities, Andrisse also runs the non-profit organization From Prison Cells to PhD, with the goal of helping those with criminal convictions obtain higher education.

Student Speaker
PEP Graduate Kareem Martin was the Graduation 2019 Student Speaker. His full speech can be read here

“As we move forward, we should remember that we have only just begun our academic journey. We must maintain our original vision, until our goals are realized, and we must embrace the challenges we face in between, because there will no doubt be a few. We have to continue to be “Greater.” Our will and energy to emerge beyond the margins of institutional, and societal barriers, must be Greater. We must approach the next stage of this journey, not matching, but increasing our level of ambition. Despite what others may say, our visions are never too great.” – Kareem Martin

Student Acknowledgement

Stanley Cook, graduation singer, sang “America the Beautiful”

Danien CobbDanny Kohl award for Best Essay recipient (presented by PEP Associate Director and advisor Barbara Baumgartner

This award is named after Danny Kohl, a longtime professor of biology, who was one of the founding members of Washington University’s Prison Education Project. Danny was a passionate advocate for social justice in St. Louis; notably, he was part of an organization in the 1960s that fought against race discrimination in housing, an organization that participated in a 1968 Supreme Court case that made discrimination in all housing sales and rentals illegal in the United States. He was also an active and outspoken member of the board of Prison Performing Arts and was a familiar presence at all of PPA’s performances. Danny was incredibly resilient, amazingly stubborn in the best of ways, and absolutely relentless in making sure things got done – including forging the groundwork for everything we are doing today at this convocation. Danny passed away last March and we continue to miss his energy and enthusiasm.

The Danny Kohl Award for Best Essay is an important reminder of just how central writing is to a liberal arts education. The ability to communicate effectively is at the heart of the exchange of ideas, innovative thinking, and intellectual community that the liberal arts foster.

Danien Cobb’s winning essay, “A Time to Sow a Time to Reap: A Good Man is Hard to Find,” can be read here

Harvey Galler, Maggie Garb Community Leadership Award recipient (presented by PEP instructor and advisor Jami Ake)

In 2011, Washington University professor Margaret (Maggie) Garb, along with Professor Danny Kohl, proposed the idea of teaching for-credit, college-level classes in prison. With the help of other faculty, the Washington University Prison Education Project became a reality at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in fall 2014 with its original course offerings of two classes. Professor Garb’s interest in prison education and her tireless efforts to get the program started and then grow and expand, are paradigmatic of her values: she was a huge proponent of the liberal arts, an indefatigable advocate for social justice, and an unflagging believer in the potential of every person. The Maggie Garb Community Leadership Award has been established in her honor.

The award recognizes and honors a PEP student who exemplifies the following:

  • Motivates others to succeed
  • Connects and collaborates with others
  • Values diverse perspectives within the community
  • Works toward the success of the PEP and MECC community
  • Demonstrates ethics and integrity through not just words, but actions
  • Seeks and promotes relationships that foster positive change

Outside Support & Acknowledgement

PEP would like to say a special thank you to Laughing Bear Bakery, for providing the graduation cakes for the ceremony.

PEP would also like to thank Clarion Brass for providing music for the ceremony.