Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr., the Miami Herald writer whose well-read warning to September 11 terrorists gave voice to the country's grief, will deliver the keynote address for Parkland College's 2013 Commencement Exercises.
The graduation ceremony will be held Friday, May 17, at 8 p.m. at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana. Other guests to be honored at the event include Carl Meyer, executive director of the Parkland College
Foundation, who will receive an honorary associate's degree, and Mark Pelafos, the Worden Martin, Inc. Chief Operating Officer, who will be recognized as Parkland's 2013 distinguished alumnus.
A prominent news and features journalist at the Herald since 1991, Leonard Pitts Jr. has been called "the most insightful and inspiring columnist of his generation" by TV talk show host Tavis Smiley. His commentary on issues ranging from popular music to race to modern family life has earned him the Pulitzer Prize for commentary (2004); the American Society of Newspaper Editors' top award, the ASNE (2001); and the Society of Professional Journalists' Fellow of the Society Award, its highest honor (2000). Pitts' column of September 12, 2001, titled "We'll go forward from this moment," gained widespread recognition for its description of America's "unimaginably determined" resolve in the face of the terrorist attacks in New York and the Washington, D.C. area.
Pitts was named the 2008 Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists and is a three-time recipient of the association's Award of Excellence. He is a seven-time recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Award and a five-time recipient of the Atlantic City Press Club's National Headliners Award. He has authored several books by Agate Publishing including a critically acclaimed collection of columns, Forward from This Moment (2009); Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood (2006); Before I Forget (2009); and Freeman (2012).
Pitts earned a degree in English from the University of Southern California; he received honorary doctorates in humane letters from Old Dominion University in 2008 and in letters from Utica College in 2012.
Parkland College Foundation Executive Director Carl Meyer, this year's Honorary Associate's Degree Recipient, will retire from his 16-year post at the end of June. Under his watch, Parkland benefited from $25.5 million raised for scholarships, programs and equipment and enjoyed such major facility projects as the Tony Noel Agricultural Technology Applications Center; the Construction Education Alliance, with offices that allow collaboration between local unions; the Prairie Gardens Plant Laboratory; and the new Parkhill Automotive Technology Center. Meyer led the foundation in a "Creating Brighter Futures" major gifts campaign that garnered $14 million by 2005, and he helped establish more than 140 scholarships and 70 partnerships with academic departments and businesses, increasing enrollment in Parkland's technical and health programs.
The Champaign resident was named Outstanding Fundraising Executive by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (East Central Illinois chapter) in 2000 and Citizen of the Year by the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce in 2009. Meyer also received the 2008 Merit Award by the Varsity "I" Association at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Champaign native Mark Pelafos, chief operating officer for Worden Martin Inc., will receive Parkland's Distinguished Alumnus Award. He studied business administration at Parkland before joining the Worden-Martin automotive team as a salesperson 30 years ago. Worden-Martin operates seven automotive franchises (Buick, GMC, Ford, Lincoln, Subaru, and Nissan in Champaign/Savoy and Chevrolet in Tilton, Illinois) and employs 240 people.
Pelafos is a graduate of the National Automotive Dealer Academy. He serves on the Bank Champaign and Parkland Alumni Association boards and has served on the Champaign Unit 4 school board and marketing committees. He and his wife of 18 years, Diane, have two children, Allie and John.
Parkland's commencement will include remarks from college President Thomas Ramage, Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas Bennett, and graduating students Amanda Jean Beals and Autumn C. K. Winder, All-USA Academic Team Nominees. Pastor Craig Pinley of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Paxton will provide the invocation/benediction, and the Parkland College Wind Ensemble will perform several selections.