Career-long public policy shaper Audra Wilson '94, president and chief executive officer of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, will be Bucknell University's 2021 Commencement speaker.
Following a successful career in law, politics and community development, Wilson was named the Shriver Center's new head in spring 2020. The organization works to bolster equal justice and economic opportunity in communities across Illinois. It's also where Wilson began her legal career after graduating from Bucknell with degrees in international relations and Spanish, and attending law school at Valparaiso University.
As a staff attorney, Wilson spent her early days at the Shriver Center focusing on welfare reform and food security — until she was tapped by former President Barack Obama to serve as the press and policy director for his U.S. Senate campaign in 2004.
What's followed has been nearly 20 years of leadership in political advocacy and community mobilization to amplify the voices of those most impacted by injustice. It's a passion shaped by Wilson's experience as a child of Jamaican immigrants and one that flourished at Bucknell, where she became inspired to invest her talents in civic engagement.
"Audra Wilson exemplifies the power of Bucknellians to transform the world," says John C. Bravman, president of Bucknell. "Her liberal arts education prepared her for an exceptional career devoted to lifting up those most in need of help. As more Americans learn about everyday injustice and engage in conversations focused on reducing inequality, Audra is a bold and clear voice for meaningful change. We are honored to welcome her home to Bucknell and look forward to hearing her inspiring message for our seniors."
Wilson will address the Class of 2021 at Bucknell's 171st Commencement celebration in May and, as with previous speakers, was hand-selected by members of the graduating class. For Kip Hallagan '21, president of the Class of 2021, the choice reflects the graduates' own desire to change the world using the skills and knowledge they've developed.
"Our class wanted to highlight the experiences of a Bucknellian who used their knowledge to help make the world a better place," he says. "We were incredibly impressed by Wilson's work, and we are thrilled to hear her perspective on how to best use our Bucknell education to effect positive change."
Service, Leadership and Care
After working for Obama, Wilson returned to her roots in law as director of diversity education and outreach and adjunct professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. There, she oversaw several major diversity initiatives and co-founded the first formal consortium of law school diversity professionals in Chicago. Another pivot in 2013 led the seasoned advocate back to politics, serving constituents in Chicago's South Side as the deputy chief of staff for U.S. Congresswoman Robin Kelly in Illinois' second congressional district.
Before taking the helm at the Shriver Center last year, Wilson worked as the Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Illinois, where she advanced the organization's pursuit of race equity, secure voting rights and sound, research-based policy solutions.
Bucknell University's 171st Commencement is scheduled for Sunday, May 23, 2021. The University is committed to celebrating the achievements of the Class of 2021, although plans for an in-person Commencement are tentative and subject to pandemic conditions and state restrictions on large gatherings. In the weeks ahead, we will closely monitor the latest COVID-19 public health recommendations and use this information to determine the safest possible approach to Commencement.