Laurie Leshin to Deliver 2024 Holy Cross Commencement Address

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Laurie Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the former president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Retired U.S. Navy Admiral Michelle Howard, longtime Holy Cross administrator Rev. Paul F. Harman, S.J., will also receive honorary degrees.

Holy Cross has announced that Laurie Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and former president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), will address this year’s graduates during the College's 178th Commencement on Friday, May 24, at the DCU Center in Worcester.

“We are thrilled to present honorary degrees to Dr. Leshin, Adm. Howard and Fr. Harman,” said Vincent D. Rougeau, president of Holy Cross. “Both Dr. Leshin and Adm. Howard are inspiring role models with accomplishments that prove that social constructs — and glass ceilings — are meant to be broken. This year marks the 50th anniversary of coeducation at Holy Cross. We are proud to honor the many women who light the way at Holy Cross and around the world.

“We are proud to call Fr. Harman a friend and loyal supporter of Holy Cross, who has made tremendous advances in strengthening the mission and identity programs of the College, drawing from the long and rich traditions of the Church and the Society of Jesus. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of an honorary degree from Holy Cross.”

A distinguished geochemist and space scientist, Leshin is the first woman to lead JPL in its 87-year history. She is also vice president and Bren Professor of Geochemistry and Planetary Science at the California Institute of Technology, which manages JPL for NASA, and continues to serve as co-investigator for two instruments on NASA's Mars Curiosity rover.

At JPL, Leshin oversees Earth and space science research, space technology development and more than 40 active space missions in Earth science, astrophysics and planetary science to help humanity better understand Earth’s changing climate, expand knowledge about our solar system and beyond, and seek to answer the most fundamental questions such as, “Are we alone in the universe?” 

Since Leshin’s arrival at JPL in May 2022, the laboratory has launched the Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite, a mission focused on Earth’s fresh water and sea-level changes, and the Psyche spacecraft, a first-of-its-kind mission to explore a metal asteroid. This year, JPL will launch the Europa Clipper spacecraft to determine if the conditions are right to support life on Jupiter’s icy moon, and the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar, which will track the movements of Earth's land and ice surfaces in extreme detail. 

Leshin served as president of WPI from 2014 to 2022. As its first woman president, Leshin was a transformational leader who helped grow the institution from a regional engineering school to a globally recognized STEM institution with a flourishing research enterprise.

In 2022, she was honored with the key to the city of Worcester from Mayor Joseph Petty, as well as a proclamation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the State Senate, for her efforts in strengthening the K-12 STEM pipeline, supporting innovation and career opportunities in Central Massachusetts and the steadfast guidance she offered the Commonwealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leshin’s  honors include NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal and Distinguished Public Service Medal and the Meteoritical Society’s Nier Prize for outstanding research by a scientist under the age of 35. The International Astronomical Union named asteroid 4922 Leshin to honor her planetary science contributions, and Leshin served appointments by two U.S. presidents.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Arizona State University, and master’s and doctoral degrees in geochemistry from the California Institute of Technology.

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Adm. Michelle J. Howard, USN (Ret.)

Adm. Michelle Howard

U.S. Navy officer Michelle Howard is the first woman to become a 4-star admiral and the first Black woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy. In 2021,  Howard was appointed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin as chair of the Congressionally-mandated commission tasked with creating a list of military assets with names associated with the Confederate States of America and recommendations for their removal. She is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

She will also deliver the 56th annual Hanify-Howland Memorial Lecture at the College on April 8, 2024. This lecture series recognizes individuals who have distinguished themselves in the realm of public service, with the speaker being  nominated annually by a committee of Holy Cross students.

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Rev. Paul Harman, S.J.

Fr. Paul Harman, S.J.

Rev. Paul F. Harman, S.J., is a member of the USA East Province Society of Jesus. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1955 and was ordained a priest in 1968. He was a key administrator at Holy Cross during the transition to coeducation, and later served as the College's inaugural vice president for mission from 2011 to 2017 and then as director of projects in mission from 2017 to 2019.

Fr. Harman holds an undergraduate and a master’s degree in philosophy from Boston College, as well as an Ed.D. in education from Columbia University.

The College will host a reception and dinner for members of the Holy Cross community on Thursday, May 23, to celebrate the recipients of this year’s honorary degrees. Fr. Harman will deliver remarks.

For more information on this year’s Commencement events, visit the Commencement website.