Commencement Speakers also reachable through

President of the University | Law Commencement speaker | Baccalaureate speaker | Undergraduate Commencement student speaker

William C. Dudley, President

William C. (Will) Dudley became the 27th president of Washington and Lee University on January 1, 2017. He was formerly provost and professor of philosophy at Williams College.

A Virginia native, born in Charlottesville and raised in Arlington, Dudley received his bachelor's degree, magna cum laude, from Williams in 1989 with majors in mathematics and philosophy, and an M.A. and a Ph.D., both in philosophy, from Northwestern University. He joined the Williams faculty in 1998. His area of expertise is German idealism, from Kant to Hegel. He is the author of two books, Understanding German Idealism (2007) and Hegel, Nietszsche, and Philosophy: Thinking Freedom (2002). He is the editor of volumes on Kant and Hegel and has published numerous scholarly articles. At Williams he also taught on the philosophy and economics of higher education and the spiritual significance of sports.

As an undergraduate at Williams, Dudley was captain of the water polo team, a member of the swimming and diving team, and the recipient of a Herschel Smith Fellowship to study at Cambridge University from 1989 to 1990. He worked from 1990 to 1993 for AES Corp. before pursing graduate studies at Northwestern.

Dudley received fellowships from the Williams College Oakley Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences, the American Council of Learned Societies and the Humboldt Foundation. He served as the Gaudino Scholar at Williams from 2010 to 2011, a presidential appointment to lead the Robert L. Gaudino Memorial Fund and to encourage curricular innovation and experiential learning at the college.

As Williams's provost since 2011, Dudley oversaw operations that directly support the college's academic mission, allocating budgets and positions and undertaking strategic initiatives in admission, financial aid, the libraries, information technology, the science center, institutional research, the Williams College Museum of Art, and the Zikha Center for Environmental Initiatives. He was intimately involved in aligning fundraising efforts with the college's needs, including establishing priorities for Teach It Forward: The Campaign for Williams, which was launched in October 2015 with a goal of $650 million.

Dudley serves as a trustee and vice-chair of the board at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the public liberal arts college for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and a campus of the Massachusetts state university system. He received a gubernatorial appointment to that board in 2010 and became the vice chair in 2015. He also served as president of the Williamstown Community Chest from 2007 to 2009 and served on the board of that non-profit for six years.

He is the father of two children, Cole and Ella.

David B. Wilkins, Harvard Law School, Law Commencement speaker

Professor Wilkins is the Lester Kissel Professor of Law, Vice Dean for Global Initiatives on the Legal Profession, and Faculty Director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School. He is also a Fellow of the Harvard University Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, a Senior Research Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and a International Research Fellow of the Novak Druce Center for Professional Service Firms at Oxford University's Said School of Business.  

Professor Wilkins has written over 80 articles on the legal profession in leading scholarly journals and the popular press and is the co-author of several books, including The Indian Legal Profession in the Age of Globalization (forthcoming 2016), Diversity in Practice (forthcoming 2015), and Problems in Professional Responsibility for a Changing Profession (5th edition 2009). His current scholarly projects include Globalization, Lawyers, and Emerging Economies (where he directs over 50 researchers studying the impact of globalization on the market for legal services in rapidly developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe); Disruptive Innovation in the Market for Legal Services (where he works with leading scholars and innovators to document and evaluate the forces shaping the legal profession in the twenty first century); After the JD (a ten-year nationwide longitudinal study of lawyers' careers); The Harvard Law School Career Study (examining, among other things, differences in the experiences of male and female graduates and the careers of lawyers who do not practice law); and The New Social Engineers (charting the historical development and current experiences of black lawyers in corporate law practice).  

Professor Wilkins teaches several courses on lawyers including The Legal Profession, Legal Education for the Twenty-First Century, and Challenges of a General Counsel. In 2007, he co-founded Harvard Law School's Executive Education Program, where he teaches in several courses including Leadership in Law Firms and Leadership in Corporate Counsel.  

Professor Wilkins has given over 45 endowed lectures at universities around the world and is a frequent speaker at professional conferences and law firm and corporate retreats. His recent academic honors include the 2015 Scholar of the Year from ESADE University in Spain, the 2012 Honorary Doctorate in Law from Stockholm University in Sweden, the 2012 Distinguished Visiting Mentor Award from Australia National University, the 2012 Genest Fellowship from Osgoode Hall Law School, the 2010 American Bar Foundation Scholar of the Year Award, the 2009 J. Clay Smith Award from Howard University School of Law, and the 2008 Order of the Coif Distinguished Visitor Fellowship. Professor Wilkins is a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Spanish Royal Academy of Doctors.


Harlan R. Beckley, Executive Director, Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty (SHECP) and Washington and Lee Professor of Religion, Emeritus

Harlan Beckley is the Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion Emeritus at Washington and Lee University. A distinguished member of the W&L faculty for four decades, Beckley was the primary architect and longtime director of the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017-2018. He also helped establish and served as the director of the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, which comprises 25 colleges and universities that have developed poverty programs, many modeled after W&L's.

A native of Illinois, Beckley received his Bachelor of Science degree with a major in economics from the University of Illinois. He attended Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and received a Master of Divinity from the Vanderbilt University Divinity School. He earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in Christian ethics from Vanderbilt while serving as minister to three United Methodist churches in Kingston Springs, Tennessee.

Beckley's scholarship focused on social justice, and he is the author of a 1992 book, Passion for Justice: Retrieving the Legacies of Walter Rauschenbusch, John A. Ryan, and Reinhold Niebuhr. Known for his work on prominent American theological ethicist James M. Gustafson, he organized a major conference on Gustafson at W&L in 1985, which resulted in the publication of an important volume, James Gustafson's Theocentric Ethics. He is a past president of the Society of Christian Ethics.

In 2002, Beckley received the commonwealth's highest award for excellence in education, the Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Beckley served W&L in numerous capacities through his career, including as acting president during the 2005-2006 academic year. An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, he has given freely of his time to the Lexington and Rockbridge County communities, serving on numerous boards and preaching at various churches in the area.


T. Mason Grist '18, Undergraduate Commencement student speaker

Mason Grist is a graduating senior from Lexington, Virginia, who has majored in both economics and religion and minored in both classics and poverty and human capability studies. Mason has served as president of the Executive Committee of the Student Body twice, for 2015-16 and 2017-19. He has also been a member of numerous faculty and administrative committees at W&L. A former tour guide and first-year peer counselor, Mason is also a member of the student-alumni group, Kathekon, and serves as a class agent. Mason is an avid member of the Outing Club and has led three Appalachian Adventure Pre-Orientation Trips. For the immediate future, Mason hopes to begin a career in higher education from Washington, D.C.