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2024 Commencement Speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients

Drew University is honored to welcome three distinguished speakers for the College of Liberal Arts, Drew Theological School, and Caspersen School of Graduate Studies.

College of Liberal Arts Commencement Speaker and Honorary Bachelors Degree Recipient

James David Van Der Beek

James Van Der Beek is an internationally-acclaimed actor, writer, and producer from Connecticut who got his start on the New York stage at age 16 in Edward Albee’s “Finding the Sun.”

He began his college career at Drew in 1995, receiving an academic scholarship and studying English and sociology. He’s starred in numerous films and television series, including Dawson’s Creek, Varsity Blues, The Rules of Attraction, Don’t Trust The B- In APT 23, and What Would Diplo Do? which he also co-created, wrote and produced, and most recently, the Emmy-nominated Pose.

He continues to work, write and develop from his thirty-six acre ranch outside of Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife Kimberly, their six children, five dogs, thirty-two chickens and a bearded dragon.

Drew Theological School Commencement Speaker and Honorary Doctorate Degree Recipient

Harriett Jane Olson

Harriett Jane Olson has served as chief executive officer of the United Methodist Women’s national administrative and policymaking arm since 2007. United Methodist Women is a US-based women’s organization in the United Methodist Church, with nearly 800,000 members engaged in work with women, children and youth in the United States and over 100 other countries. United Methodist Women operates and owns the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City, which they make available to the UN-NGO Community.

A Harvard Law School graduate, Ms. Olson practiced real estate and environmental law (1983-96) in New Jersey. From 1996-2007, Ms. Olson was senior vice-president for publishing, Editorial Director of the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, TN whose imprints include Abingdon Press and Cokesbury. Ms. Olson has a bachelor’s degree from Houghton College in Houghton, N.Y., where she serves on the board of trustees.

Caspersen School of Graduate Studies Commencement Speaker

Laura Winters

Laura Winters has taught writing, literature, and film for 42 years at Saint Elizabeth University and for 33 years in the graduate school at Drew University. 

She has published Willa Cather:  Landscape and Exile, as well as articles and reviews on postmodern literature, the literature of grief, bereavement, and resilience.