2012 Commencement Speaker is a Role Model for Grads

March 28, 2012

After years of living and learning the service ethos at Mary Baldwin University, many 2012 graduates will see their futures in Abigail Disney. The scholar, philanthropist, award-winning filmmaker, and mother of four will deliver the keynote address at Mary Baldwin’s 170th Commencement on May 20.

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Disney is the granddaughter of Roy Disney and grandniece of Walt Disney, who co-founded the Walt Disney Company in 1923. While her relatives gained fame with fairy tales, Abigail Disney has sought to examine the real-life heroism of women.

Her first film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, tells the inspirational story of Liberian women and their efforts to bring peace to their nation after decades of civil war. Her work captured best documentary at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan. Disney also coproduced a series for PBS’s Wide Angle — the only program exclusively dedicated to international current affairs documentaries — about the changing role of women in conflicts around the globe.

“I learned that women have amazing capacities to effect change in the very places we think they’re powerless, and I couldn’t keep the information to myself,” Disney told Philanthropy News Digest. “Film is the best way for me to communicate because of its ability to humanize situations and reach people at the level of their deepest feelings.”

As cofounder and president of the Daphne Foundation, Disney also has helped improve the lives of women and children by providing funds for grassroots organizations that address AIDS advocacy, children’s health, improved labor conditions, environmentalism, and more.

“For 170 years, Baldwin women have lived the guiding principles that Disney promotes in her work,” said Mary Baldwin President Pamela Fox. “Our 2012 graduates — like Disney, and thousands of Mary Baldwin alumnae/i who came before them — will use their wisdom and experience to compose lives of purpose, become leaders in their communities, and find ways to empower others no matter the path they choose.”

Disney has played a critical role in several social and political organizations, such as The New York Women’s Foundation, the White House Project, the Global Fund for Women, and the Fund for the City of New York. She received her bachelor’s degree from Yale University, her master’s degree from Stanford University, and a PhD in English literature from Columbia University.

The 170th Commencement ceremony at Mary Baldwin University will begin at 10 a.m. at Barbara Kares Page Terrace on the main campus in Staunton.

Photo by Gabrielle Revere/Contour by Getty Images