U.N. human rights ambassador, native rights attorney to speak at LSSU commencement

Commence Stage 2017FROM ON HIGH — Lake Superior State University students queue across the commencement stage in this view taken from the Taffy Abel Arena catwalk during 2017 ceremonies in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. This year’s May 5 ceremony includes an address by U.N. human rights ambassador and Native American attorney Keith M. Harper; the bestowing of a posthumous honorary doctorate to LSSU history professor emeritus James Moody; and words from student speaker Jennifer Wickens. A livestream of the event will be available shortly before 11 a.m.  (LSSU/John Shibley)

Keith M. Harper, noted Native American attorney and former ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council, will be the featured speaker when Lake Superior State University celebrates its 56th annual commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 5.

The program begins at 11 a.m. and will feature presentation of a posthumous honorary doctorate to LSSU professor of history emeritus James Moody and words from student respondent Jennifer Wickens.

Keith Harper Portrait

Keith M. Harper

Nearly 500 students have qualified for degrees over the past year, and although not all of them will participate in Saturday’s program due to new jobs and other commitments, the majority of them will be walking across the stage to receive their diplomas.

The ceremony will also include an announcement of this year’s recipient of the LSSU Distinguished Teaching Award. The public is welcome to attend.

Keith M. Harper was appointed by President Obama as the U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, a position he held from 2014 to 2017. He is the first Native American appointed as US ambassador to such a post.

Harper is best known in legal circles for his work in Cobell v. Salazar, a class-action lawsuit – the largest against the United States in history – brought by individual Native Americans against the United States Departments of Interior and Treasury. The suit, filed in 1996, contended that these agencies mismanaged billions of dollars of income and assets held in trust that belonged to American Indians, dating back to the 1800s. Harper served as class counsel on behalf of upwards of 500,000 individual American Indians and successfully settled the case in 2009 for $3.4 billion.

James Moody Portrait

James Moody

Lake Superior State University is also bestowing an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters on History Professor Emeritus James W.T. Moody, who passed away in Dec. 2017. Moody taught history and the humanities to thousands of LSSU students over the years since his hiring in 1971. He continued to teach well beyond his official retirement in May 2010, continuing to serve as an instructor through the fall 2017 semester.

Moody was a man of unmatched dignity with an unquenchable love of learning, and a gentle, generous spirit that ensured all who came in contact with him felt welcomed and respected. He could speak on any topic, with anyone, anywhere, and at any time. Known for his black suits, bow ties, and straw hats, his larger-than-life persona cut a well-known and beloved figure on campus and around town.

Finally, student respondent Jennifer Wickens has wanted to be a doctor since she was 16. She begins medical school this fall to pursue a career as a family or emergency physician. She officially graduated last December with a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry, summa cum laude.

Jennifer Wickens Portrait

Jennifer Wickens

For her senior research thesis project, Wickens worked with Chemistry Professor Marshall Werner to clone a gene from the North American Opossum that confers resistance to the toxic effects of many snake venoms. Opossums produce a protein called oprin that mitigates many of the effects of snake venoms. Wickens inserted oprin-producing genes into E. coli bacteria so that they would produce a venom-suppressing protein.

LSSU faculty and students will continue to build on Wickens’ work in cloning and protein research. Many undergraduate research projects in the natural and applied sciences carry on for years and launch yet others in sometimes unexpected directions.

Wickens is the daughter of Marshall and Cathy Wickens of Tustin, Mich. She has two older sisters, Amanda Wickens of Houston, Tex., and Elizabeth Commissaris, who lives in Mt. Pleasant, Mich.

A livestream of commencement will be available shortly before 11 a.m.