Anthony Jack to speak at commencement; Honorary Degree recipients announced

College to honor Harvard professor Jack, author Jane Thierfeld Brown P’10, Lutheran minister Brian Eklund '66 and businessman John Heffer P'96.

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Harvard professor and renowned author Anthony Abraham Jack will speak at the May 17 Commencement ceremony this year. He will also be presented with an honorary degree alongside author Jane Thierfeld Brown P’10, Lutheran minister Brian Eklund ’66 and businessman John Heffer P’96.

Jack, who gave a talk at ‘Berg this past October, is perhaps best known nationwide for his book, The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Poor Students. The book, which has been praised by the likes of The New York Times, NPR and the Boston Globe,  addresses the ways in which colleges, despite recruiting more and more diverse students, ultimately do not provide said students with the support they need to thrive on campus.

“[Jack’s] visit was an overwhelming success from the students who got to have an intimate dinner with him to the public lecture and faculty/staff workshop,” says Allison Gulati, dean of students, about how Jack was chosen. “His information and approach were incredibly helpful in guiding our community to a greater understanding of important socio-economic issues and ways to begin to address them.”

Jack’s book reflects many of the themes found in his research as Assistant Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, as well as his work within the Shutzer Assistant Professorship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Jack’s work centers on two dimensions of undergraduate demographics that often go unacknowledged, dimensions that Jack calls “the Doubly Disadvantaged” (poor students who move from low-income schools to elite universities) and “the Privileged Poor” (poor students who attended preparatory or boarding schools). Jack himself is a first-generation college student and, according to his Twitter bio, an avid knitter and cook.

Gulati says, “[I hope graduating seniors will gain] a deeper awareness of the inequities in our communities broadly and at Muhlenberg and an understanding of the ways that they as graduates can go out and help shape the world to respond to these socio-economic and higher education challenges [from Jack’s speech].  His message and story will resonate with many and I believe he will ignite in graduates the desire to be part of the solutions to these complex challenges.” 

Jane Thierfeld Brown P’10 has worked for 40 years in disability services, and currently serves as director of College Autism Spectrum, an organization that works with students with autism spectrum disorders and their families to prepare such students for future jobs and provides them with college counseling. She is also an assistant clinical professor at Yale Medical School’s Yale Child Study and has an Ed.D. from Columbia University.  Additionally, Brown wrote The Parent’s Guide to College for Students on the Autism Spectrum and Behavior Management and Self-Regulation, as well as co-authoring Student with Asperger’s: A Guide for College Professionals. She has three children, the youngest of whom has autism and another of whom is a Muhlenberg alum.

Brian Eklund ’66 is an ordained Lutheran minister who served as the pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Los Angeles for over 30 years, where he worked towards building a diverse congregation, helping the poor and advancing civil rights through nonviolent methods. A sociology major whilst at ‘Berg Eklund earned his master’s of divinity from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In 1992, Eklund’s congregation became one of eight founding members of New City Parish, a non-profit coalition of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in the greater Los Angeles area, where he then served as director. Such work has been acknowledged by the city of Los Angeles, the California State Assembly and the California Governor’s Office and The City of Cuernavaca, Mexico. 

John Heffer P’96 is the former president of HSBC Business Credit (USA) Inc. He has also been president and chief operating officer at CIT Group/Factoring, president at Chatham Capital Corporation and executive vice president at the AJ Armstrong Company. Heffer served on the Muhlenberg Board of Trustees both from 1994-2006 and from 2007-2019. He chaired the Board from 2002-2005 and also spent time on the College’s Parents Council. Heffer received a Muhlenberg College Alumni Achievement Award for Service to the College by a Non-Alumnus in 1998. Heffer has been generous when gifting to multiple funds at the College, including The Heffer Family Fund for Academic Support Services and the Muhlenberg Faculty Rising Scholars program, and he also engages in philanthropic work at other institutions across Pennsylvania and New York. The Heffer Family Foundation, founded by Heffer and his wife Barbara, distributes almost $180,000 annually.  

“Above all, all of these individuals have used their educational experiences to propel them to work toward the common good and to live lives of leadership and service to others,” says Gulati of the honorees. “They have brought hope to many, uncovered and shared important truths with the world a kinder, more empathic, and community-oriented place.”

Muhlenberg College will hold its 2020 Baccalaureate ceremony on Saturday, May 16, at 8:30 p.m. and its 2020 Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 17, at 10 a.m.

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