ST. BONAVENTURE — Anthony Ray Hinton will deliver the keynote address May 19 at St. Bonaventure University’s 159th Commencement ceremony, almost four years after he left an indelible impression on the class about to graduate.
Hinton was released from prison in April 2015 after spending 30 years on Alabama’s death row for a crime he did not commit.
Hinton came to campus just six months later to represent author Bryan Stevenson, who wrote “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” the 2015-16 All Bonaventure Reads selection. ABR is a book, chosen annually, that all freshmen read the summer before starting classes at St. Bonaventure.
Those students, now this year’s graduating class, were so moved by Hinton’s message of forgiveness and redemption that they submitted a petition with more than 100 signatures asking the university’s Honorary Degree Committee and President Dennis R. DePerro, Ed.D., to consider Hinton as the Commencement speaker.
Hinton will receive an honorary doctorate. Also receiving honorary degrees May 19 will be Father Joseph Nangle and Dick Kearns, Class of 1972.
“Just Mercy” explores inequity in the U.S. criminal justice system and focuses mainly on the work of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), of which Hinton is now an employee. He serves as EJI’s community educator and travels nationally and internationally to speak about his experience and as an advocate for prison reform.
One of the longest-serving death row prisoners in Alabama history and among the longest-serving condemned prisoners to be freed after presenting evidence of innocence, Hinton is the 152nd person exonerated from death row since 1983.
Thirty years ago, Hinton was arrested and charged with two capital murders based solely on the assertion that a revolver taken from his mother’s home was the gun used in both murders and in a third uncharged crime.
EJI attorneys engaged three of the nation’s top firearms examiners, who testified in 2002 that the revolver could not be matched to crime evidence. State prosecutors never questioned the new findings but nonetheless refused to re-examine the case or concede error.
After 12 more years of litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower courts, and a new trial was granted. The judge finally dismissed the charges after prosecutors said that scientists at the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences tested the evidence and confirmed that the crime bullets could not be matched to the Hinton weapon.
Since his release, Hinton has spoken at dozens of universities and conferences. His inspirational memoir, “The Sun Does Shine, How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row,” was released in March 2018.
Kearns is a veteran executive of the insurance industry and served as chief administrative officer of Zurich Insurance Group in Switzerland.
A longtime benefactor of the university, Kearns is a former member of the St. Bonaventure Board of Trustees and a recipient of the university’s Gaudete Medal and Alumnus of the Year Award.
Kearns and his wife, Maureen, sponsor the annual Kearns Global Business Lecture Series in connection with the School of Business.
Nangle lives in a unique community at Clare House, the 30-year-old residential community comprising both lay and religious men and women in Washington, D.C. He also serves as an associate pastor for Hispanic ministry at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Arlington, Va.
He is treasurer and secretary for the Board of Directors of the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) and is a regional vocation director for the Holy Name Province, Franciscan Vocation Ministry.
Nangle served 12 years as the co-director of Franciscan Mission Service and spent 15 years as a missioner in Bolivia and Peru.
Commencement Weekend kicks off with the annual Candlelight Induction Ceremony at 8:45 p.m. Friday, May 17, in front of Plassmann Hall on campus. The rain site is the University Chapel.
All commencement participants and guests of all faith traditions are invited to the Baccalaureate Mass to be held at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 18, in the Reilly Center Arena. The public is welcome.
Saturday’s events also include the commissioning of ROTC cadets as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army at 10 a.m. in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts; the Honors & Awards Ceremony at 11:30 a.m. in the Reilly Center Arena; and the Multicultural Stole Ceremony at 1 p.m. in the Quick Center for the Arts.
Commencement exercises begin with the student processional at 10:15 a.m. Sunday, May 19, in the Reilly Center Arena.