FARMINGTON — The commencement speaker for the University of Maine at Farmington Class of 2015 will be Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic gold medalist and champion for women’s distance running.

Samuelson will receive an honorary degree at the ceremony at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 16, on the UMF campus.

A Maine native, Benoit Samuelson has blazed a trail for women of all ages in the sport of competitive running. Her lifelong commitment to health, fitness and the sport she loves has redefined the idea of a lifetime runner and inspired a generation on how to never give up on being your best.

“Joan Benoit Samuelson is the image of discipline, passion and excellence both on the race course and in life,” UMF President Kathryn A. Foster said. “She is a leader in building awareness of the value of a healthy lifestyle and sustainable environment and its effect on how we live our lives. What a distinct and fitting honor it is to have her share her thoughts with our graduates in a year when we launch outdoor track and field as a new varsity sport and further our commitment to health, wellness and sustainability.”

In 1979, Benoit Samuelson received All-American honors in cross-country and track and won the Boston Marathon — setting an American and course record — all before she graduated from college. She went on to win the Boston Marathon again in 1983, shattering the American record and breaking the world record by more than two minutes.

One year later, she made history by winning the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles, running the last 21 miles of the race ahead of all competitors. In 1985, she raced to victory in the Chicago Marathon, setting a new American record, and in 2000 she was named a 20th Century Top Athlete by Sports Illustrated.

In the four decades she has been involved in the sport, Benoit Samuelson has taken every opportunity to give back to the sport and to the community. In 1998, she founded the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K road race in Cape Elizabeth. This race attracts over 6,000 runners annually and benefits a different children’s charity every year.

Benoit Samuelson is a consultant to Nike Inc. and gives numerous motivational addresses and fitness clinics throughout the U.S. She has authored two books, her autobiography, “Running Tide,” (Knopf, 1987), and “Joan Samuelson’s Running for Women” (Rodale Press, 1995).

Graduating senior Chelsea Lear-Ward from Levant will give the student address. With a major in community health education and a minor in environmental studies, she is interested in helping to promote health through sustainability. She came to UMF as a Mitchell Scholar and has been active on campus interning with the TerraCycle recycling program, coordinating events for the Farmington Farmers’ Market and helping to raise awareness of domestic violence. After graduation, she will move to Washington state to work in the wellness field.

Foster and Joseph McGinn, provost and vice president for academic affairs, will confer degrees to this year’s graduates. Karl Turner, member of the UMS Board of Trustees, will deliver greetings to the graduates from the University of Maine System.

The UMF commencement ceremony will be webcast live at www.umf.maine.edu and broadcast live on Mount Blue TV community access Channel 11 at http://mtbluetv.org, whether the ceremony is held indoors or outdoors.


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