2018 Commencement Features Obama Foundation CEO David Simas ’92

April 9, 2018


Stonehill is proud to announce that the Chief Executive Officer of the Obama Foundation, David Simas ’92, has been named as the speaker for the College’s 67th Commencement on Sunday, May 20 at 10:00 a.m. on the main quadrangle.

In addition to giving the Commencement address, Simas will also receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the College. Joining Simas will be author and scholar John Stack ’72, dean of the Stephen J. Green School of International & Public Affairs at Florida International University who will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, and acclaimed poet and playwright Claudia Rankine who will receive an honorary Doctor of Literature.

For more details about the ceremony, including information for family and friends, visit here.

David Simas

Simas is CEO of the Obama Foundation, started by former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama to inspire and empower the next generation of civic leaders to create positive change in their communities and around the world. The Foundation offers fellowships, summits, programming, and partnerships that ensure every innovator, young leader, and everyday citizen has access to the tools they need to make an impact.

The son of Portuguese immigrants, Simas grew up in Taunton, Mass. and spent eight years as a senior advisor to President Obama, the 44th President of the United States. While in the White House, Simas was always generous with his time, meeting with Stonehill students whenever they visited Capitol Hill on class or internship projects. On several occasions in recent years, he has returned to campus for speaking engagements focused on leadership and public policy issues as well as addressing prospective students and their families at Skyhawk Welcome Day.

In 2007, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick appointed Simas as his deputy chief of staff. Two years later, Simas joined the Obama administration as Deputy Assistant to the President, working with senior advisors David Axelrod and David Plouffe. For Obama’s re-election in 2012, Simas became the director of opinion research. After Obama’s re-election, Simas returned to the White House as Director of the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach.

Simas has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Stonehill and a J.D. from Boston College Law School. He lives in Chicago with his wife Shauna and their two daughters.

Claudia Rankine

A poet, essayist, playwright and educator, Rankine is a bestselling author who “examines race and racism through a mix of prose poetry and image” and is one of America’s “foremost chroniclers of race relations, past and present,” according to the Financial Times.

As Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University, Rankine delves into the many ways in which “racial assumptions shape daily life” in society. In 2015, before an appreciative audience in the Martin Institute, Rankine delivered that year’s Chet Raymo Literary Series lecture in which she addressed some of the difficult racial and social-justice questions our society faces today.

Rankine won a distinguished Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017. When she was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant in 2016, the foundation hailed her for “illuminating the emotional and psychic tensions that mark the experiences of many living in twenty-first-century America.”

She is author of five collections of poetry including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; numerous video collaborations, and is the editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind

For her book Citizen: An American Lyric, Rankine won both the PEN Open Book Award and the PEN Literary Award, the NAACP Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry (Citizen was the first book ever to be named a finalist in both the poetry and criticism categories); and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Citizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category. Among her numerous other awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Rankine earned a BA at Williams College and an MFA at Columbia University.

Dr. John F. Stack, Jr.

Dr. Stack ’72 is the founding dean of the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University and he holds a joint appointment as Professor of Politics and International Relations and Professor of Law. He specializes in Ethnicity and World Politics, Administrative Law, National Security and Constitutional Law.

As Dean of the Green School, Dr. Stack oversees eight academic departments, including Criminal Justice, Economics, Global and Sociocultural Studies, History, Modern Languages, Politics and International Relations, Public Administration and Religion. Additionally, he oversees more than 20 of the university’s most prominent international centers, institutes and programs, including the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center, the Cuban Research Institute and the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy.

Hailing from Brockton, Dr. Stack has kept close ties to the College and to his hometown, is a member of the Advisory Board of the Martin Institute, and has returned many times to campus for presentations and other events. He credits Stonehill with preparing him for his career as an academic leader and scholarly researcher and author. His sister Nancy graduated from Stonehill in 1977 and his sister Pamela in 1970.

Dr. Stack is author, co-author, editor and co-editor of 14 books and 35 articles and chapters in edited books. His latest book is Globalization: Debunking the Myths, Third edition (2017). His book, The New Deal in South Florida: Design, Policy, and Community Building, 1932-1944 (2008), co-edited with John A. Stuart, won the 2009 Silver Medal second prize in the Florida Book Awards for Florida non-fiction. He is co-editor of Courts and Terrorism: Nine Nations Balance Rights and Security (2011) with Mary L. Volcansek.

Dr. Stack graduated from Stonehill with a Bachelor of Arts with highest honors in 1972. He earned his Master of Arts (1974) and Ph.D. (1977) from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver and his J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law in 1989. He was admitted to practice before the Florida Supreme Court in 1990.

Dr. Stack twice served as chair of the Department of Political Science and has been editor of the Florida International University Press. He served as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy and as chair of the University Research Council. He was instrumental in the founding of FIU’s College of Law and chaired the search and screen committees for many of the top administrative positions.