Civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis was named Wednesday the principal speaker of Harvard University’s commencement this spring.
“For more than 50 years, John Lewis has dedicated himself to the ideals of equality and decency, standing up for what is right, even when it meant putting himself in harm’s way,” Harvard President Drew Faust said in a statement. “His public service legacy is unparalleled, and he is an inspiration to me and to countless other people across the United States and around the world.”
The Georgia Democrat, who has been a member of Congress for more than three decades, is no stranger to Harvard.
He was awarded an honorary degree by the university in 2012, and in 2016 helped Faust dedicate a plaque on campus honoring four slaves who worked for Harvard presidents in the 18th century.
Lewis, who as a boy was denied a library card because of his race, is a prominent civil rights leader who in 1961 joined the Freedom Riders to protest segregation by occupying bus seats reserved for whites in the South, often experiencing beatings and imprisonment.
He also helped lead the 1965 voting rights march out of Selma, Alabama, where he suffered a fractured skull.
Lewis has received numerous awards, including the Lincoln Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“John Lewis has dedicated his life to making the United States a more just and equitable society,” said Susan Morris Novick, president of the Harvard Alumni Association. “I am sure that his courage, his compassion, and his commitment to service will inspire Harvard alumni and students alike.”
Harvard’s 367th commencement is scheduled for May 24.