2016 Commencement Speaker & Honorary Degree Recipients

Commencement Speaker

Governor Kate Brown

Governor Kate  BrownKate Brown is Oregon’s 38th Governor. From 2008 to 2015, Brown served as Oregon’s Secretary of State, where she was a leader in increasing government transparency and accountability. In that office, Brown oversaw an Audits Division that identified millions in savings by increasing government efficiencies and rooting out waste. She streamlined business registration and licensing by implementing Business Xpress, an online ‘one­‐stop shop’ that enables business owners and entrepreneurs to establish and run a business in Oregon without getting bumped around from state agency to state agency.

Brown successfully implemented an online voter registration system, which made it easier for Oregonians to register to vote and saved taxpayer dollars. Oregon received national recognition for Brown’s work utilizing technology to make it easier for active‐duty service members and people with disabilities to vote.

Prior to serving as Secretary of State, Brown served for 17 years in the state legislature: five years in the Oregon House of Representatives and 12 years in the Oregon State Senate. In 2004, Brown made history when she became the first woman in Oregon history to serve as Senate Majority Leader, after being elected by her colleagues.

During her time in the legislature, Kate Brown led efforts on government accountability and reform. In 2007, she successfully spearheaded legislation that The Oregonian called the “state’s most sweeping package of ethics reforms in 34 years.” And she led a bipartisan group of legislators to pass Oregon’s most significant campaign finance reform law in a generation, making campaign contributions more transparent than ever before by creating an online database for campaign finance reporting.

Brown successfully helped pass Family and Medical Leave, making Oregon one of the first states in the nation to allow parents to stay home with their sick children without fear of losing their jobs. She also put Oregon on the map as the first state to require insurance companies to cover annual breast exams for women over 18 as part of preventive health care screenings.

Brown has also been a longtime leader in advancing civil rights and marriage equality. In 2007, she helped to pass the Oregon Equality Act, a civil rights law that prohibited discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of sexual orientation. And Brown was instrumental in passing Oregon’s Family Fairness Act, which legally recognizes committed same-­sex relationships as domestic partnerships.

Prior to running for public office, Brown practiced family and juvenile law. She taught at Portland State University, worked with the Juvenile Rights Project and co-­founded the Oregon Women’s Health and Wellness Alliance, which has been leading efforts to support women’s health for more than 20 years.

Brown grew up in Minnesota and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado-­Boulder. Kate came to Oregon to attend Lewis and Clark’s Northwestern School of Law, where she received her law degree and Certificate in Environmental Law.

With her husband Dan, Brown raised Dan’s son and daughter, who are now grown, in Portland. When Brown is not busy at the Capitol in Salem, you’ll find her horseback riding or hiking. In February of 2015, Brown and her husband moved into the official residence, Mahonia Hall.

Honorary Doctor of Laws

Symeon Symeonides

Symeon SymeonidesSymeon Symeonides is the Alex L. Parks Distinguished Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus at Willamette’s College of Law. He is also one of the university’s most distinguished and esteemed academics.

Symeonides received his first two law degrees from the University of Thessaloniki in Greece, and the next two (LL.M. and S.J.D.) from Harvard. He joined Willamette in 1999 as Dean of the College of Law and served in that capacity until 2011. Previously, he taught at the University of Thessaloniki, and Louisiana State University, where he was the Judge Albert Tate Professor of Law and vice chancellor. He also taught at the universities of Paris-I (Sorbonne), Paris-V (Descartes), Aix-en-Provence, Louvain-la-Neuve, Tulane, and Loyola, and lectured at The Hague Academy of International Law and more than fifty European and American universities.

Symeonides has published 26 books and more than 120 articles, some of which appear in Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, or Spanish. The Stanford Law Review characterized him as a “conflicts giant”. His work has been cited by the supreme courts of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel.

His scholarly work has been honored with the Friedrich K. Juenger Prize (2002); the Courtland H. Peterson Senior Scholar Prize (2013) and resolutions of appreciation by the AALS Section of Conflict of Laws. In October 2015, the American Society of Comparative Law selected him for a Life Achievement Award. HeinOnline ranked him 101st on the list of the Top 250 Legal Authors of all time.

Symeonides is president of the International Association of Legal Science, past president of the American Society of Comparative Law and the AALS Section of Conflicts of Laws, titular member of the International Academy of Comparative Law, life member of the American Law Institute and the Groupe Européen de Droit International Privé, member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Order of the Coif, associate member of the Institut de Droit International, and fellow of the European Law Institute.

He is active in law reform. He drafted the Louisiana codification on Conflict of Laws, the Oregon codification for tort conflicts, and a draft Code of Private International Law for Puerto Rico. He spent six months in Brussels, chairing five working groups drafting new laws for the European Union and represented the Presidency of the EU council in negotiating an international convention. He currently serves on an Experts’ Group and a Working Group drafting another convention under the auspices of The Hague Conference on Private International Law, and as an Adviser for the Third Restatement on Conflict of Laws for the ALI. He also provided legislative advice to the EU Parliament and the governments of Cyprus, Estonia, Russia, and Tunisia.

Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts

Marie Watt ‘90

Marie Watt Marie Watt is a nationally-recognized Portland-based mixed media artist whose work explores human stories and ritual implicit in everyday objects.

Watt received her BS degree in Speech Communications and Art from Willamette University in 1990. She went on to earn her MFA degree in painting and printmaking from Yale University in 1996 and has enjoyed a successful career as an artist, teacher, and storyteller. She has been featured in countless solo and group exhibitions over the past 15 years and is included in numerous public and private collections throughout the United States.

She was born to the son of Wyoming ranchers and a daughter of the Turtle Clan of the Seneca Nation (Haudenosaunee), and identifies as “half cowboy and half Indian.” Formally, her work draws from Seneca and Indigenous principles, proto-feminist role models, oral tradition, biography, and history. She explores and reveals the historical and contemporary intersections of Indigenous and Western/European cultures.

Much of Watt’s work is executed in community, notably in “sewing circles,” public events by which anyone with time and interest can participate in making a work, and in which the fellowship and storytelling around the table can be more important than the resulting object. She uses materials that are conceptually attached to narrative: in particular, exploring the stories connected with commonplace woolen blankets, cedar, and iron.

In September 2004, an exhibit of her work opened in New York City at the George Gustav Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian. The exhibit included Blanket Stories, a sculpture made of two towers of wool blankets, with each stack sewn together with a central thread. Watt collected the blankets over several years, including many Hudson's Bay point blankets that were given to Native Americans in trade by the Hudson's Bay Company during the 19th century.

In 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation commissioned Watt to produce a site-specific artwork for their Seattle campus. The work, Blanket Stories: Matriarch, Guardian and Seven Generations, is a 14-foot column of wool blankets from all over the world and is located in the building's lobby.

One of Watt's blanket columns is now at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. Another of Watt’s works, created in sewing circles with Willamette faculty, staff and students, hangs in Ford Hall.

Watt is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships. The book Marie Watt: Lodge offers a comprehensive view of her work and features life stories told through blankets, printmaking, sculpture and digital media.

Willamette University


900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

Back to Top