SJU Announces Class of 2017 Commencement Speakers, Honorary Degree Recipients

Thursday, March 30, 2017

PHILADELPHIA (March 30, 2017) — Madeline Bell, president and CEO of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), will address the Class of 2017 at Saint Joseph’s University’s undergraduate commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 20 at 9 a.m.

Beginning her career at CHOP as a pediatric nurse, which first inspired her commitment to improving care for children, Bell was the first woman to be named the hospital’s CEO in 2015. Prior to her current appointment, Bell held a number of senior leadership positions at CHOP, including president and COO. Her contributions to the hospital include the development of the largest pediatric ambulatory network in the country; the implementation of a single platform electronic health record; expansion of a four-million-square-foot campus; and the development of numerous nationally recognized clinical and family-centered care programs. An adviser to multiple international hospitals, Bell is the Chair of the Children’s Hospital Association, and serves on the boards of Comcast, the Davis Institute of Health Economics, and Solution for Patient Safety. Most recently under her leadership, U.S. News & World Report named CHOP No. 2 nationwide in its 2016-17 Honor Roll of the Best Children’s Hospitals. Bell will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

In addition to Bell, Cora Marie Billings, R.S.M., and alumnus J. Eustace Wolfington ’56 (B.S.) will be honored at the undergraduate ceremony with the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Sister Billings, who has been a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy for 60 years, was the first African American to join the order’s Mid-Atlantic Community in Merion, Pennsylvania in 1956. Sr. Billings has dedicated her life to teaching and advancing racial equality and social justice. Her influence has been felt on the national level as one of the founding members of the National Black Sisters’ Conference, for which she served as president and executive director. Sr. Billings taught at numerous Philadelphia Catholic elementary schools and at her alma mater, West Philadelphia Catholic Girls’ High School, where she is a member of the Hall of Fame. In addition, Sr. Billings has lived and worked in Richmond, Virginia, where among multiple achievements, she holds the distinction of being the first African American woman in the nation to lead a church (St. Elizabeth Catholic Church) as a pastoral coordinator. She was also a member of the Archdiocese of Richmond Concilium Board of Directors. Sr. Billings has been recognized by Ebony Magazine in its “Black Women Firsts” series, and with the Mayor Rendell Recognition Award, as well as an honorary doctorate from Gwynedd Mercy University.

Wolfington is a dedicated alumnus and longtime supporter of his alma mater who is known as an innovator in the retail automobile, car leasing and insurance industries. A prominent leader in Catholic philanthropy, Wolfington was a member of Saint Joseph’s University’s Board of Trustees from 1993 to 2002, and in 2004 received the Shield of Loyola, the University’s most prestigious alumni award. Wolfington’s generosity to Saint Joseph’s has made possible the Wolfington Teletorium in Mandeville Hall, the Robert M. Gillin Jr. Boathouse and the Wolfington Center, which is the home of Saint Joseph’s Office of Campus Ministry. In 2015, Saint Joseph’s named the former Cardinal’s Residence — a historic landmark at the heart of Catholic Philadelphia — the Maguire-Wolfington Welcome Center for Wolfington and his friend and fellow alumnus, James J. Maguire ’58 (B.S.). The center, a hub for SJU applicants and their families, is situated on the Marcy Dugan Wolfington Campus, which is named for Wolfington’s late wife. He is a U.S. steward of St. Peter and the Papal Foundation and a steward of St. John Neumann, and was honored by the American Catholic Historical Society’s Barry Award.

Alumna Linda Cliatt-Wayman ’92 (M.S.), will deliver the address at the graduate and doctoral ceremony at 3 p.m.

Cliatt-Wayman is a noted leader in education advocacy on behalf of children living in poverty. After spending 20 years as a special education teacher, Cliatt-Wayman became principal of Philadelphia’s FitzSimons High School and later, the Young Women’s Leadership School at Rhodes High School, where during both appointments, she established her ability to transform low-performing schools. She then accepted an appointment as assistant superintendent of high schools for the School District of Philadelphia but returned to work as the principal at Strawberry Mansion High School. There, Cliatt-Wayman received national attention from ABC World News Tonight, Nightline and TED for her role in turning around the high school. After one year of her leadership, the school was removed from the federal Persistently Dangerous Schools List, and student achievement and test scores improved dramatically. Cliatt-Wayman was a Top 50 Finalist for the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize, was named a KYW Gamechanger and received Philadelphia magazine’s Trailblazer Award. She will receive the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Both ceremonies will be held on campus.

“Saint Joseph’s is especially proud to host this impressive group of honorary degree recipients who all model what we hope our graduates realize about their own aspirations: that success in their chosen fields should go beyond conventional achievements to culminate in an engaged citizenship that seeks to make a positive difference," says University President Mark C. Reed, Ed.D.

Media Contact

Patricia Allen, Director of Communications,, 610-660-1222


Founded in 1851 in the Jesuit tradition of academic excellence, Saint Joseph’s University is a top-ranked Catholic University that provides a rigorous, student-centered education. With a total enrollment of 8,500 undergraduate and graduate students, SJU offers a wide array of academic programs designed so that each graduate enters the world with a competitive resume and global perspective. This is achieved through intense academic study led by thought-leading faculty scholars, a comprehensive campus experience and robust study abroad, service-learning, internship and co-op programs. Upon graduation, nearly 100 percent of students are employed, pursuing advanced degrees or volunteering in prestigious service programs. A member of the Atlantic 10 Conference, SJU offers 20 Division I intercollegiate men’s and women’s sports. SJU alumni — over 68,000 strong — provide a powerful network that spans the globe.

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