Actress and activist CCH Pounder ’75 will be delivering the main address at Ithaca College’s Commencement ceremony May 23, according to Dave Maley, associate director of media relations.
Pounder recently played Na’vi spiritual leader Moat in “Avatar” and was Mrs. Frederic in the Syfy network series “Warehouse 13.” She also received Emmy Award nominations for her performances as Claudette Wyms on “The Shield,” Dr. Angela Hicks on “ER,” and for her guest appearances on “The X-Files” and “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”
In 1989, Pounder and a team of activists founded Artists for a New South Africa, an organization that works in the U.S. and South Africa to combat HIV and AIDS, assist children orphaned by the disease and advance human and civil rights.
Senior Kylie Burnside, senior class president, said the process to choose the Commencement speaker began in December and by January the executive board had about six top choices. She said the board chose Pounder because her philanthropic contributions, including her work to fight the spread of AIDS, set her a part from past speakers.
Burnside said she thinks Pounder is also a great choice because she is an alumna.
“She will have a lot of really good things that she will be able to tell us, since she has been to Ithaca and she has been in our shoes before,” she said.
Brian McAree, vice president of student affairs and campus life and chair of the Commencement committee, said he worked with the senior class executive board as well as the Division of Institutional Advancement and the Office of Alumni Relations to secure Pounder as the speaker.
“CCH Pounder is an exceptional and accomplished [alumna], and I am thrilled that she has agreed to be our Commencement speaker,” he said. “The seniors as well as the college have made a great choice with CCH Pounder, and we hope this really begins a wonderful new tradition.”
McAree said the committee was originally looking for a faculty member to be the speaker, like the December graduation, but after feedback from the senior class they began to look for an alum.
McAree declined to comment on the exact cost of the speaker, but said that choosing an alum was a deliberate choice to keep the cost low.
“It has become difficult over the past few years to identify and then bring in a celebrity speaker and the related costs doing that has just increased with each successive year,” he said. “We are always looking at how we can have a great Commencement, provide a wonderful experience for the graduates and families, and at the same time do that with a reasonable budget.”
Senior and Student Government Association President Jeff Goodwin said he is glad an alum is speaking.
“Utilizing alumni and someone that has a connection with Ithaca, I personally feel is a much better decision,” he said. “Not only did [Pounder] graduate from Ithaca, but she has been very successful, so in some ways it is a celebrity and a celebrity from Ithaca.”
President Tom Rochon said he met with Pounder last week in Los Angeles near her home where she expressed her excitement to be the Commencement speaker.
“She did tell me that she is so thrilled about this honor that she has already started writing her speech,” he said. “I think she will have a message that will really resonate with our seniors.”
Rochon said Pounder’s experiences will be an inspiring send-off to the graduating seniors.
“She is not only a well-known actor and celebrity, but she has had significant involvement for social justice on two continents — this one and Africa,” he said. “She’s a great example of someone who has a clear direction and passion in their life, in this case acting, but who has made sure they leave a mark on the world.”