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Juniata Graduates 306 as Commencement Speaker Harriet Michel Tells Class the World Depends on Them

(Posted May 17, 2010)

Harriet Michel, president of the National Minority Supplier Development Council and a 1965 Juniata graduate, told the graduating class of 2010 that graduates from their generation will shape the future in their lifetime.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Harriet Richardson Michel, president of the National Minority Supplier Development Council and a 1965 graduate of Juniata College, recalled that as a college student she faced life head-on, challenged assumptions and was "not willing to go quietly into the good night." She also instructed the 2010 graduating class at Juniata College that she was just a small part of a much larger social movement and urged them to "keep their eyes on the prize to achieve success" at the college's 132nd commencement ceremony, Saturday, May 15.

The graduating class of 306 students was awarded bachelor of arts (103) or bachelor of science degrees (203) at the ceremony today presided over by Juniata President Thomas R. Kepple Jr. The senior graduating class statistics include that 94 percent graduated in four years or less, 40 percent of seniors studied abroad, and 80 percent completed an internship, research experience or student teaching, and 40 percent completed an individualized study program.

Michel quoted philosopher Martin Buber in her opening remarks, saying "Every single man (and of course woman) is a new thing in the world and is called upon to fulfill his particularity in this world." Citing the serious challenges facing new graduates such as budget deficits, cuts in jobs and education, global warming and an increasingly partisan political atmosphere, she asked the class to consider, "Previous generations had the luxury to accept or reject the belief that one must assume responsibility for the well being of the world. Your generation, for better or for worse, enjoys no such luxury."

Michel's professional career has been focused on increasing opportunities for minorities and minority-owned businesses. The National Minority Supplier Development Council is a non-profit organization that seeks to expand business opportunities for minority-owned companies. The council's NMSDC Network matches more than 15,000 businesses owned by people of African-American, Asian, Native American and Hispanic descent with more than 3,500 corporate members who can purchase their goods and services. Using her professional experiences, her work for civil rights and her experience as an African-American woman as an example for the graduating class, she explained that people who wish to return to a simpler, romanticized America are simply wishing for an America that never was.

"The America of yesterday can never return (and) the America of tomorrow depends on you like never before." she told the graduates. "Individuals from your generation will surface as leaders in every field -- business, art, politics, economics, math, religion, technology and medicine --those individuals will shape the future during your lifetime."

"Times of challenge and controversy are also times of extraordinary opportunity, a time when fresh perspectives and new ideas are most needed. Remember, 'Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain.'"
Harriet Richardson Michel, 2010 Commencement Speaker

Michel quoted author David Cottrell's book "12 Choices That Lead to Your Success" urging the students to make bold choices when it comes to character, actions and investment in the future.

She concluded her address by reminding the graduates, "times of challenge and controversy are also times of extraordinary opportunity. A time when fresh perspectives and new ideas are most needed. Remember, 'life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain.'"

The 2010 Senior Class Gift collected more than $25,508 (72 percent of the class contributed to the gift), for a chair lift near the entrance to Ellis Hall, which will be used to make Ellis Hall more accessible to disabled students and visitors.

Michel remains active at Juniata, serving as a member of Juniata's board of trustees from 1989 to 2004. In 2004 she was voted trustee emerita by the board.

In her senior year at the college, the Pittsburgh native was one of a group of Juniata students to travel to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama as part of a countrywide effort to bring attention to the civil rights abuses that were brought to national attention by "Bloody Sunday," an attack on peaceful marchers on Selma's Edmund Pettus Bridge. College students were asked by civil rights leaders to travel south to participate in protests.

When Juniata faculty and the students arrived in Alabama, they participated in several gatherings and marches. During one of these events, policemen attacked the demonstrators, including some of the Juniata students. A local photographer took photos of Richardson tending to a bloodied Galway Kinnell, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who was serving as a Juniata artist-in-residence in 1965. This photo and several others were featured in a photo spread in Life magazine.

More recently, Michel has led the council since 1988. Before signing on with the council, Michel was president and chief executive officer of the New York Urban League from 1983 to 1988, where she was responsible for services provided to more than 70,000 New Yorkers through more than 20 programs focused in education, employment, housing and health and social services.

Michel has had vast experience in administering political and service projects. Just a few years after graduating from Juniata, she served then-New York City Mayor John Lindsay from 1971 to 1972 to coordinate the anti-drug programs within the city's public agencies. In 1972 she became executive director of the New York Foundation, making history as the first African-American woman to head a major foundation. She later became a founding member of the Association of Black Foundation Executives and has served on the board for the Council on Foundations.

She has been a volunteer for education, serving as director of special projects for the National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students. She also created the first national college fair for African-American students and has served as a member of the New York City Board of Higher Education and as a vice chair of the New York State Advisory Council on Post-Secondary Education.

Michel has served on numerous boards of directors and has been a member of the National Advisory Council for the Small Business Administration. She also has traveled to South Africa as a member of three Agency for International Development missions to consult on small business and minority business development.

She has been honored by numerous awards, among them the 2006 "50 Most Powerful Women in Business," by Black Enterprise magazine, a 2005 induction into the Minority Business Hall of Fame and the 2004 Hall of Fame Award from Enterprising Woman Magazine.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.