Erskine Bowles to Receive Honorary Degree, 'Push' Grads at Converse Commencement

Erskine Bowles
Erskine Bowles
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As White House chief of staff and a co-chairman of The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, the news-churning deficit-reduction panel popularly dubbed "Simpson-Bowles," Erskine Bowles knows a thing or two about being outside his comfort zone.

"My mama always told me she found her voice at Converse College, that the professors there pushed her out of her comfort zone...I plan to return the favor to Converse's graduates."

And when he delivers Converse College's commencement address on May 18, he said he plans to push the freshly minted 2013 graduates out of theirs.

"I have thrown away the nice little graduation speech I normally give," said Bowles, who also will receive an honorary doctorate from the college that happens to be his mother's alma mater. "My mama always told me she found her voice at Converse College, that the professors there pushed her out of her comfort zone. She, in turn, pushed me out of mine, and I plan to return the favor to Converse's graduates."

The 67-year-old Erskine Boyce Bowles carries his mother's maiden name. Jessamine Boyce Bowles, who grew up in nearby Gastonia, NC, was a member of the Class of 1941 at the all-women's college. "She loved it there," he said, and he accepted the invitation to speak at Converse, in part, because one of his closest friends, Jane Boatwright Schwab, a 1977 Converse alum, asked him to and because, he said: "My mother would have kicked me all the way to Converse before she would have let me say no."

That's one long punt: Bowles still ricochets around the country, in public service and on numerous boards. In addition his stints with the Clinton and Obama administrations, Bowles has also served as president of the University of North Carolina and as special United Nations envoy to the 14 nations devastated in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed some 230,000 people. A founder of private-equity firms, the corporate Bowles also serves on such boards as Facebook and Morgan Stanley.

"To welcome a Carolinian of such monumental experience, service and character as Erskine Bowles to our campus says as much about the legacy that Converse gave to his mother as it does about Mr. Bowles's commitment to ensuring that that legacy of public service and hard work endure," college President Betsy Fleming said.

For more information about Bowles's appearance at the 123-year-old liberal arts college and to arrange interviews, contact Beth Lancaster, director of media & public relations, at (864) 596-9704 or beth.lancaster@converse.edu. Media outlets are welcome at the 9:30 a.m. commencement service in Twichell Auditorium. For more information about Converse College, visit www.converse.edu.