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April 23, 2010

Lafayette Will Award Four Honorary Degrees at the 175th Commencement

Three recipients have special ties to the College
Receiving honorary degrees will be Father Thomas Hagan (top), founder of Hands Together in Haiti; Commencement speaker Joan Lunden, an author and TV journalist; Edward Ahart, incoming chair of Lafayette’s Board of Trustees, and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Lafayette will award honorary doctorates to four distinguished leaders, including three who have special ties to the College, at the 175th Commencement Saturday, May 22.

Edward W. Ahart ’69, managing partner and chairman of the law firm of Schenck, Price, Smith & King, Florham Park, N.J., will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. Ahart will become chair of Lafayette’s Board of Trustees on July 1, succeeding Alan R. Griffith ’64, who is stepping down as chair but will remain a member of the Board.

Father Thomas J. Hagan, O.S.F.S., former Catholic chaplain at Lafayette and the founder of the humanitarian organization Hands Together, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.

Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), the champion of freedom and leader in the American and French revolutions for whom Lafayette College is named, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree posthumously. The degree will be accepted by Count Gilbert de Pusy La Fayette, a direct descendant of the Marquis de Lafayette.

The College announced previously that television journalist and author Joan Lunden will be the Commencement speaker. She will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Journalism degree.

Commencement will be held at 2:30 p.m. on the Quad. The academic procession will begin at 2:15 p.m. The annual Baccalaureate service will be held at 10:30 a.m. the same day, also on the Quad, and will feature a sermon by Varun Soni, dean of religious life at the University of Southern California.

Ahart has served as secretary to the College’s Board of Trustees and a member of the Steering Committee since 2007. A member of the Board’s Executive Committee since 2001, he has chaired the Trustees’ Committee on Student Life and served as vice chair of the Committee on Educational Policy and as a member of the Committee on Easton.

Ahart was a member of the search committee whose efforts culminated in the election of Daniel H. Weiss as Lafayette’s 16th president. He served as chair of the All-College Task Force on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, the Subcommittee on Governance and Rules Compliance of the College’s NCAA Self-Study Committee, and the Alumni House Committee. He was a member of the Trustees’ Special Committee on Information Technology. Before becoming a trustee, Ahart served as president of the Lafayette Alumni Association from 1990 to 1992. He received the Joseph E. Bell ’28 Award for distinguished service to the College in 1998.

Ahart’s ties to Lafayette include two alumnae daughters, Amy ’97 and Alison ’03, and two alumni sons-in-law, Thomas DiGiovanni ’96 and Shaw Williams ’03. His wife, Catherine Folk Ahart, is an active and enthusiastic partner and participant in service to Lafayette. Ahart and his family are the benefactors of the College’s Ahart Family Scholarship Fund. He is a sustaining member of the Marquis Society.

Ahart holds a bachelor of arts degree with a major in Spanish from Lafayette. He earned a J.D. degree from the Cornell University Law School in 1972 and, prior to joining Schenck, Price, Smith & King a year later, served as law secretary to the Honorable Joseph P. Halpern, presiding judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.

A partner in Schenck, Price, Smith & King since 1978 and a member of its executive committee since 1980, Ahart has served as the firm’s managing partner since 1991 and has chaired its Business Law Department and Corporate Practice Group. He has earned designation by his peers as a New Jersey Super Lawyer in the areas of mergers and acquisitions and business/corporate law.

An elder of the Greenwich Presbyterian Church, Stewartsville, N.J., he is a member of the Executive Committee and former chair of the Morris County (N.J.) Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Executive Committee and past president of the Greenwich Cemetery Association, and a member of the Board of Governors and past president of the Morristown Club. He is a past board chair of the ARC, Warren County Chapter.

Fr. Hagan is the founder of Hands Together, a nonprofit organization devoted to educating, inspiring, and encouraging people to understand the importance of responding to the needs of the poor and disadvantaged. He started the organization in 1986 after a trip to Haiti with a group of students from Lafayette, where he was serving as Catholic chaplain. He accompanied the students who had organized an effort to assist two dozen people suffering from leprosy in Gonaives. He recognized the profound impact that the experience had on the students and later said in an interview that it was largely due to the fact that they were able to relate to people who were different from them by color, culture, and religion. Hands Together grew as an outreach program to help the poor in Haiti and by 1989 students from many other colleges and universities had participated. The organization was incorporated that year.

Hands Together, which also has offices in Springfield, Mass., and Princeton, N.J., has established schools, orphanages, nutrition and feeding programs, medical clinics, and sustainable development projects in Haiti. The Centre Becky DeWine in Port-au-Prince is headquarters for the Hands Together network of schools in the Cite Soleil slum. Fr. Hagan’s home, which doubled as a volunteer center, was destroyed in the recent earthquake. Doug Campbell, the executive director of Hands Together, is a 1985 Lafayette graduate. Hands Together is also involved in projects related to health care, housing, and family crisis assistance. In collaboration with Caritas Gonaives, a local Haitian diocesan organization, Hands Together purchased Haiti’s largest well-drilling machine and together they have conducted water projects, community development, and agricultural programs.

In 2004, Fr. Hagan returned to Lafayette’s campus for the 15th reunion of the Class of 1989 and attended a special ceremony for Rick Thorpe ’89, who was killed during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on New York City.

Fr. Hagan was Catholic chaplain at Lafayette from 1983 to 1991 and then served as Catholic chaplain at Princeton University. He moved to Haiti in 1997 to work full time with Hands Together.

Fr. Hagan holds a bachelor of arts degree with a major in English from Niagara University, a master of arts degree in psychology from Temple University and a master of divinity degree from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He was ordained Sept. 6, 1969, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Philadelphia.

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