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Last modified: Thursday, April 7, 2011

Former Mellon Foundation and Princeton president and Vera Bradley founder to speak to IU graduates

April 7, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- This May, Indiana University Bloomington will celebrate its 182nd spring commencement with three ceremonies spanning two days.

Patricia R. Miller, co-founder of Vera Bradley Designs and former Indiana Secretary of Commerce, will address both sessions of undergraduate students on Saturday, May 7.

The day before, William G. Bowen, former president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and of Princeton University, will be the commencement speaker at a ceremony for graduate students.

Undergraduate commencement ceremonies also will include graduating student speakers. Andrew Merki, from La Plata, Md., will speak at the morning ceremony, and Shabrelle Pollock, of Jeffersonville, Ind., will speak at the afternoon ceremony. Merki, a student in the Mitte Business Honors Program and the Hutton Honors College, will receive a B.S. in business with concentrations in economic consulting and public policy analysis. Pollock, a student in the Hutton Honors College and an Ernie Pyle Scholar in the IU School of Journalism Honors Program, will receive a B.A. in journalism, with a minor in marketing.

IU President Michael A. McRobbie and Bloomington Provost Karen Hanson will preside over May commencement ceremonies at the IU Bloomington campus. McRobbie will preside over commencement ceremonies at all eight IU campuses.

Patricia R. Miller

Patricia R. Miller

Patricia R. Miller

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Upon graduating from IU Bloomington with a bachelor's degree in business education, Patricia R. Miller began a teaching career in Indiana, unaware that her business acumen and fashion sense would take her far beyond the classroom.

One day in 1982, while in the Atlanta airport with her friend and fellow Fort Wayne resident Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, the two noticed a need for luggage with more appeal to women. The duo, no strangers to doing business together, had formed a wallpapering company shortly after meeting in 1975 and later sold a clothing line. Starting with an investment of just $250 each, they began producing bags. Within five years, they moved their company, Vera Bradley -- named after Baekgaard's mother -- into a 15,500-square-foot production facility in Fort Wayne.

Today, their company is an internationally recognized brand with net revenues of more than $300 million a year. The company's stock is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange under VRA. Chances are you've seen their handbags, travel bags and accessories on top-rated television programs such as Desperate Housewives, The Apprentice, Entourage and Modern Family, as well as in more than 20 feature films.

More than 3,300 specialty stores and 42 Vera Bradley company stores sell their products -- which now also include travel bags, handbags, accessories, paper and gift items.

Miller served as Vera Bradley's co-president until recently; she now serves as Vera Bradley's national spokesperson and company director. In 2005-06, she took a leave of absence from the company to serve as Indiana's first Secretary of Commerce and chief executive officer of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation at the request of Governor Mitch Daniels.

Over her career, Miller has received many honors. In 1997, she was named the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Business Leader of the Year. She also received the Indiana University Distinguished Alumni Service Award. More recently, Miller received the Indiana Historical Society Indiana Living Legend Award in 2008.

She continues to serve as a director on the IU Foundation Board, IU Varsity Club, Vera Bradley Corporate Board and Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, which has been a major supporter of research at the Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center at the IU School of Medicine.

The Vera Bradley Chair in Oncology was established as a result of a $1.2-million endowment. Since its inception in 1998, the Vera Bradley Foundation has raised more than $10 million and pledged an additional $10-million endowment to the IU School of Medicine research team led by Vera Bradley Chair in Oncology Linda Malkas and Ballve-Lantero Professor of Oncology George Sledge.

Miller is a founding member of the IU Women's Philanthropy Council and also remains involved in volunteer activities in Fort Wayne.

William G. Bowen

As president of both the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (1988-2006) and Princeton University (1972-1988), William G. Bowen has had a unique vantage point from which to study questions central to higher education, including the role of doctoral studies, affirmative action, sports and information technology.

William Bowen

Photo by David Lubarsky

William Bowen

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Since stepping down as president of the Mellon Foundation in 2006, he has continued to be involved in the national discussion on these questions and wrote the latest of his more than 20 books, Lessons Learned: Reflections of a University President (Princeton University Press, 2010).

The book, which draws upon his tenure as president of Princeton, was been described by Library Journal as "an essential manual for university presidents." It is the latest in an extensive body of work examining higher education that began with the publication of the 1992 book (with Neil Rudenstine), In Pursuit of the Ph.D.

A 1955 graduate of Denison University, he earned his doctorate at Princeton in 1958 and joined its faculty that year as a specialist in labor economics. He became the university's provost in 1967 and served in that position until 1972.

Bowen's tenure at the Mellon Foundation was marked by increases in the scale of its activities, with annual appropriations reaching $220 million in 2000. To ensure that Mellon's grant-making activities would be better informed and more effective while also following his interest in issues central to higher education and philanthropy, he created an in-house research program to investigate doctoral education, college admissions, independent research libraries and charitable nonprofits.

Bowen's personal scholarship on higher education included one of the most comprehensive studies of affirmative action in higher education, the Grawemeyer Award-winning 1998 book The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions (with Derek Bok).

His other books as author or co-author include Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities (2009), The Board Book: An Insider's Guide for Trustees and Directors (2008), Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education (2005), Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values (2003), and The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values (2001).

About IU Bloomington Commencement

Graduate commencement for students receiving master's and doctoral degrees will take place at 3 p.m. on Friday, May 6 in Assembly Hall, with the procession of graduates beginning at 2:45 p.m.

Undergraduate ceremonies will take place Saturday, May 7, also in Assembly Hall, with the morning session starting at 10 a.m. and the afternoon session at 3 p.m. The processions of graduates begin 45 minutes prior to those times.

For Bloomington, the number of graduates includes degree candidates for May, June and August, and graduate students whose degrees have been or will be awarded on a monthly basis from January 2011 to July 2011. For other campuses, the figures include degree recipients from December 2010 and candidates for May, June and August 2011. Those numbers also include graduate students whose degrees have been or will be conferred during the 2010-2011 academic year.

Details about all of IU commencement activities can be found at