LEWISTON — John Lewis, a Georgia congressman who has been called “one of the most courageous persons the civil rights movement ever produced,” will deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at Bates College on May 29.

Lewis is the only living member of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement, which included Martin Luther King.

For its 150th commencement, Bates will also confer honorary degrees on three others for their achievements in literature, psychology and higher education:

• Lisa Genova, Bates Class of 1992, a neuroscientist and author of the best­-selling novel “Still Alice;”

• Daniel Gilbert, renowned Harvard psychologist and author of “Stumbling on Happiness;” and

• Robert Witt, Bates Class of 1962, a leader in higher education who transformed the University of Alabama.


Lewis, 76, has dedicated his life to protecting human rights and securing civil liberties. In the 1960s, he organized sit-­ins at segregated lunch counters. He was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, one of the volunteers who risked their lives challenging segregation at bus terminals across the South. He co-founded and chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the height of the civil rights movement, and was an architect of the 1963 March on Washington.

On March 7, 1965, Lewis led more than 600 protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. The marchers were attacked by police in a brutal confrontation now known as “Bloody Sunday,” a watershed moment in the civil rights movement.

Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986. In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded Lewis the highest U.S. civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Bates College President Clayton Spencer said, “We are thrilled that the commencement address will be delivered by Congressman Lewis, whose life and work exemplify the animating values of this institution.”

Bates was founded in 1855 by Maine abolitionists, open to men and women from all racial, ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds. 

The Bates Class of 2016 consists of approximately 470 students from more than 30 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 40 countries.

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