Drew University Announces Commencement Speakers, Including James Van Der Beek

Former CEO of United Women in Faith Harriett Jane Olson and Professor Laura Winters will speak at theological, graduate ceremonies

April 2024 – Drew University announces its 2024 Commencement speakers for the College of Liberal Arts (CLA), Drew Theological School, and Caspersen School of Graduate Studies ceremonies on May 10 and 11. 

Actor, and former Drew student, James Van Der Beek will serve as the CLA speaker. The internationally-acclaimed actor, writer, and producer has starred in numerous films and television series including Dawson’s Creek, Varsity Blues, The Rules of Attraction, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, and most-recently the Emmy-nominated Pose. He also co-created, wrote, produced and starred in What Would Diplo Do?.

Serving as Commencement speaker will be a return to campus for the actor. Van Der Beek began his college career at Drew in 1995, receiving an academic scholarship.

As a student, Van Der Beek studied English and sociology and was a member of the a cappella group 36 Madison Ave. He left Drew after landing the lead role in Dawson’s Creek, launching his career in Hollywood.

Van Der Beek will also receive an honorary bachelor of arts degree for his “selfless service and exemplary commitment to the mission of Drew.”

Harriett Jane Olson, former general secretary and CEO of United Women in Faith, and a social justice activist, will serve as the Theological School speaker. Olson will receive an honorary doctor of divinity degree in addition to serving as speaker.

“Over 15 years, Olson led programmatic and structural innovations and bold changes to strengthen United Women in Faith and positioned it for future growth and increased impact,” said the Rev. Dr. Edwin David Aponte, dean of the Theological School. “We are excited to recognize her inspirational and creative leadership, character, and achievement, and to have her address our graduating class.”

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Olson began her career locally in Morristown, serving as a partner at Day Pitney, Hardin, Kipp, and Szuch where she specialized in environmental law. She then served as the vice president for publishing at the United Methodist Publishing House and has filled numerous leadership positions in the UMC in New Jersey.

Laura Winters, professor of literary studies, writing, and studies in religion in the Arts & Letters program, will serve as speaker for the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies ceremony.

Winters has taught at Drew since 1991, focusing on modernist and postmodern literature and film.

Author of Willa Cather: Landscape and Exile, Winters is also a long-time professor at neighboring College of St. Elizabeth.

For more about 2024 Commencement, visit drew.edu/commencement.

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