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Tony Award Winner Ben Vereen To Give 2016 Commencement Address

Ben Vereen with Cornish senior Maya Burton in a master class given fall 2015. Photo: Mark Bocek.

Tony Award Winner Ben Vereen To Give 2016 Commencement Address

Cornish College of the Arts President Nancy J. Uscher announced today that Honorary Doctorate degrees will be awarded at this year’s Commencement to Broadway performer/activist Ben Vereen, visual artist Pae White, renowned jazz performer and educator Clarence Acox, and recent Oscar winner and Pixar director Pete Docter. In addition, this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award will go to actress Emily Chisholm '04 and the Distinguished Recent Alumni Award will go to Catherine Harris-White '08.

“These artists represent the very best of what it means to be an artist, citizen, and innovator,” said President Uscher. “I know that their work has been an inspiration for our students and I look forward to recognizing their many outstanding achievements at our 2016 Commencement.”

Tony Award winner Ben Vereen held a master class for Cornish musical theater students last fall while visiting Seattle to advocate for those who have suffered a serious brain injury. A Broadway legend, he also has appeared in numerous television series and movies. For his humanitarian efforts, Vereen has received the Community Mental Health Council’s 2004 Lifeline Celebration Achievement Award, Israel’s Cultural and Humanitarian Awards, three NAACP Image Awards, an Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award, and a Victory Award. He will address the Cornish Class of 2016 at the college’s commencement ceremonies on May 14 at McCaw Hall.

Vereen will be joined on stage by White, Acox, and Docter. Multi-media artist White frequently creates large-scale installations in a variety of media. Her work was most recently featured locally at the Henry Art Gallery, and the installation offered an opportunity for Cornish visual arts students to meet the artist. As director of jazz bands at Garfield High School since 1971, Acox has influenced generations of jazz artists, including many Cornish alumni and students, and has been recognized as one of the most influential musicians and educators living in Seattle. Acclaimed filmmaker Pete Docter has been nominated for eight Oscars for his work with Pixar Animation Studios, winning for Up (2009) and Inside Out (2015).

Also recognized at the 2016 Commencement will be Cornish alumni Emily Chisholm and Catherine Harris-White.Seattle actress Chisholm is a member of New Century Theatre Company, whose recent credits include the American premiere of Sugar Daddies directed by Sir Alan Ayckbourn, Bethany directed by John Langs, and Outside Mullingar directed by Wilson Milam. Chisholm has appeared with Seattle Repertory Theatre, ACT Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Seattle Public Theatre, Washington Ensemble Theatre, Seattle Children's Theatre, and with Arena Stage in Washington D.C..  Chisholm was voted Best Actor of 2015 by Seattle Weekly and has been nominated for the Gregory Award and the Helen Hayes award. 

Harris-White is one-half of the  American R&B/hip hop duo THEESatisfaction and, as a musician, she is known as “SassyBlack.”  A popular writer on the DIY music movement, she independently released her EP “Personal Sunlight” in 2015 and her debut solo album “No More Lame Dates” will be released this May. Harris-White appears on the new HBO show Vinyl this year as Ruth Brown. THEESatisfaction also will perform with the Seattle Symphony in 2017 as part of Sonic Evolution 2.

Following the presentation of honorary degrees and awards, President Uscher will confer degrees on nearly 200 graduating seniors at this year's ceremony.

The Cornish Centennial Commencement will take place at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 14, at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall at Seattle Center. Cornish College of the Arts awards Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art, Dance, Design, Film+Media, Performance Production, and Theater, as well as a post-graduate Artist Diploma in Early Music.