Member of 'Little Rock Nine’ to Speak at University of Arkansas Commencement

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Terrence J. Roberts, one of the civil rights pioneers known as the “Little Rock Nine,” will receive an honorary degree and address graduating students at the University of Arkansas 2008 All-University Commencement. The ceremony will begin at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, May 10, in Bud Walton Arena. Roberts will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Terrence J. Roberts

When Terrence J. Roberts became the desegregation consultant for the Little Rock School District in 1998 he was helping to finish a task he began more than 40 years earlier.

In September 1957, Roberts was one of nine African American students who volunteered to integrate Little Rock Central High School. He was 15 years old when he and the other members of the “Little Rock Nine” were turned away from the school by National Guard troops. Three weeks later, after President Eisenhower ordered federal troops to Little Rock to enforce the law, Roberts and the other eight students were escorted into Central High, protected from the angry crowd of protestors outside. 

Years later, Roberts said he wasn’t prepared for the intensity of opposition the “Little Rock Nine” faced. He endured the hostility, harassment and constant threat of violence through the school year and said he learned an important lesson: “Fear itself is no reason to give up on your goal.”

Roberts completed his junior year at Little Rock Central, but when the city’s high schools were closed the next year to prevent further integration, he and his family moved to California. He graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1959, earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at California State University in 1967, a master’s degree in social work from the University of California-Los Angeles in 1970 and a doctorate in psychology from Southern Illinois University in 1976. He founded the management consulting firm of Terrence J. Roberts & Associates in 1975, with clients including the University of California, the March of Dimes Foundation and the Screen Actors Guild.

In 1998 Roberts was hired as a consultant for the Little Rock School District, to assist it in complying with federal desegregation orders. In 2007 the district was finally ruled “in compliance” and released from federal court supervision.

Roberts has also had a long academic career, both as a teacher and administrator. He is currently a core faculty member in the graduate program in psychology at Antioch University, Los Angeles.

Terrence J. Roberts was born in Little Rock, the eldest of seven children. He and the other members of the “Little Rock Nine” have received many honors for their pioneering contributions to civil rights, including the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.


Additional Ceremonies and Speakers, Saturday, May 10

Sam M. Walton College of Business, 12:30 p.m., Barnhill Arena

  • Speaker: Tommy Boyer, founder, Micro Images Inc., Amarillo, Texas.

Tommy Boyer graduated from the University of Arkansas College of Business in 1964. He was an All-American basketball player with the Razorbacks and held three NCAA scoring records. He worked for 26 years as a sales representative with Eastman Kodak Co., where he was the only sales manager in the history of the company to exceed his sales goals for 26 consecutive years. Shortly after retiring from Kodak in 1989 Boyer founded Micro Images Inc. and within two years built the company into the largest reseller of Kodak document-imaging hardware and software in the United States. Walton College named him the 1998 Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2000, he was awarded the Medallion for Entrepreneurship, a national award recognizing outstanding individuals who combine innovative business achievement with service to humanity.

Boyer served for three years as co-chairman of the university’s Campaign for the Twenty-First Century, which raised more than $1 billion. In 1999, he and his wife, Sylvia, received the Andrew J. Lucas Distinguished Service Award from the Arkansas Alumni Association.


Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, 1 p.m., Pauline Whitaker Animal Science Center

  • Speaker: Laura Sossamon, graduating senior

Laura Sossamon of Ozark is a first-ranked senior scholar, having a 4.0 grade point average during four years in Bumpers College. She also earned the college’s John W. White Outstanding Student Award. She will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural business in the pre-law program, with a Spanish minor. She was a student leader for a service project in Belize, served on the Dean's Student Advisory Board and is one of 17 students nationally selected for the United States Department of Agriculture 2008 Agricultural Outlook Forum. She conducted an honors program research project on the differences in U.S. and European farmer attitudes towards environmental policy. Her career goal is to work in public policy and law. 


School of Architecture, 1 p.m., Arkansas Union Alltel Ballroom

  • Speaker: Cynthia Weese, architect, former dean, Washington University at St. Louis School of Architecture

Cynthia Weese is a pioneer in many aspects of architecture. When she graduated from the School of Architecture at Washington University in 1963 she was the only woman in her class, and, after moving to Chicago, she became one of a handful of female architects to start her own practice. She began by working with “urban pioneers” who were moving back to Chicago, doing the design work as they remodeled old homes. She was a founding member of the architecture firm Weese Langley Weese, as well as of the professional organizations Chicago Women in Architecture and the Chicago Architectural Club. She was part of a pioneering architectural movement known as “the Chicago 11,” who rebelled against the glass and steel designs dominating urban architecture. In 1993 she became dean of the School of Architecture at Washington University, and during her 12-year tenure brought pioneering changes to the structure and philosophy of architectural education.

Weese continues to practice architecture in Chicago. Her work has been exhibited and published nationally and internationally. Her honors include a Metropolitan Chicago YWCA Outstanding Achievement Award, as well as numerous AIA Distinguished Building Awards, AIA Honor Awards in Interior Architecture and the Tau Sigma Delta Gold Medal for Excellence in Architecture.


J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, 1 p.m., Bud Walton Arena

  • Speakers: Sarah Mesko and Cole Bockenfeld, graduating seniors

Sarah Mesko of Hot Springs, a Bodenhamer fellow, is graduating with a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance and flute performance. She has appeared in many productions with the university Opera Theatre and has played in numerous concerts with the university Symphony Orchestra. A two-time winner of the University of Arkansas Concerto/Aria Competition, Mesko recently won first prize in the Franco-American Vocal Academy’s Grand Concours de Chant in Austin, Texas. In June she will return to the Aspen Music Festival on a fellowship to sing the role of Dorothée in Cendrillon. This fall she will begin her studies at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, where she plans to earn a master of music in vocal performance. 

Cole Bockenfeld of Rogers is an Honors College fellow. As a four-year honors scholar in Middle East Studies he has focused on issues of Islam and democracy as well as researching terrorism and political violence. In the summer of 2005 he studied Arabic at Al al-Bayt University in Mafraq, Jordan. The following year, he returned to Jordan as an intern with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in the capital city of Amman. In the fall of 2007 he interned with the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., where he helped to organize Benazir Bhutto's final public appearance in the United States. After graduation he plans to seek employment in the field of Middle East policy and pursue a master's degree at Georgetown University.


College of Engineering, 3:30 p.m., Barnhill Arena

  • Speaker: Padmasree Warrior, chief technical officer, Cisco

Padmasree Warrior’s energetic, approachable and pragmatic leadership style integrates ideas from diverse sources, including engineers, sociologists, technologists, marketers, policy experts and others. Throughout her career she has earned a reputation for establishing processes that tap a rich diversity of technical, business and entrepreneurial IQ to nurture innovation, speed development time to market and improve the way people work, live, play and learn.

As Cisco’s chief technology officer, Warrior helps define the company’s technological strategy and drive innovation. She works closely with the company’s senior executive team and board of directors to align these efforts with Cisco’s corporate goals.

Warrior joined Cisco in 2007. Prior to that, she was the chief technology officer at Motorola, where she led a team of 26,000 engineers and directed Motorola Labs, with an annual research and development budget of $3.7 billion. Under Warrior’s leadership, Motorola was awarded the 2004 National Medal of Technology by President Bush, the first time the company had received this honor.

In addition to her work at Cisco, Warrior serves on a broad range of government and industry advisory boards, as well as those of charitable and community organizations. Recently, the Economic Times ranked her as the 11th Most Influential Global Indian. She was one of six women nationwide selected to receive the “Women Elevating Science and Technology” award from Working Woman magazine. In 2007, she was inducted into the Women in Information Technology International Hall of Fame.

Warrior holds a Master of Science degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, India. In 2007 she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Engineering from New York's Polytechnic University.


College of Education and Health Professions, 4 p.m., Bud Walton Arena

  • Speaker: Hon. Mike Ross, Arkansas fourth district congressman

U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, D-4th District, was first elected to Congress in 2000 and is serving his fourth term representing south Arkansas. Ross, of Prescott, serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Science and Technology. He was also appointed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s parliamentary assembly, where he represents the United States at meetings of the 26 other NATO nations.

Ross is a member of the “Blue Dog Coalition,” a group of fiscally conservative Democratic House members and has been elected by his colleagues to serve as the coalition’s co-chair for communications.

Ross is a former member of the Nevada County Quorum Court. In 1990 he was elected, at age 29, as the youngest member of the Arkansas State Senate, where he served for 10 years.

A fifth-generation Arkansan, Ross was born in Texarkana. He is the son of public school educators. He graduated from Hope High School and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He is married to the former Holly Hempen of Texarkana. They have two children, Sydney and Alex.


Ceremony and Speaker, Saturday, May 17

School of Law, 2 p.m. Saturday, Fayetteville Town Center

  • Speaker: Hon. Bobby E. Shepherd, U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

Judge Bobby E. Shepherd of Arkadelphia was nominated to the Eighth Circuit by President George W. Bush on May 18, 2006, to fill the seat of the retiring Judge Morris S. Arnold. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 20, 2006. He began hearing cases Oct. 18, 2006 following Judge Arnold's formal retirement. Judge Shepherd maintains chambers in El Dorado.

Judge Shepherd graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1975, and was in private practice in Arkansas from 1976-1990. He served as a circuit-chancery judge for the 13th Judicial District from 1991-1993. He was appointed as a U.S. magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas in 1993 and served until 2006.



Steve Voorhies, manager of media relations
University Relations
(479) 575-3583,


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