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Kal Penn to Address Class of 2014 at May's 175th Annual Commencement

March 31, 2014

Kal Penn -- known for his starring roles in TV’s House and 24 and in the Harold and Kumar film franchise and the former associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement -- will present the address to DePauw's Class of 2014 at the University's 175th annual commencement. Oxford University Professor Emeritus Emilie Savage-Smith and renowned poet Gjertrud C. Schnackenberg will also be awarded honorary Doctor of Letters degrees at the ceremony, which will take place on Sunday, May 18, at 10:30 a.m. in Holton Memorial Quadrangle.

Kal Penn put his acting career on hold when it was announced in April 2009 that he would join the Obama administration as an associate director in the White House Office of Public Engagement. His work in Washington was related to matters of financial aid for colleges students, the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and efforts to bring American troops back from Iraq. Penn also served as a liaison with Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, helping engage them in a variety of social initiatives.

"I had friends who were over in Iraq and Afghanistan," Penn has said of his reasons for joining the Obama administration. "I had buddies who had huge student debt, people who got kicked off their health insurance plans for one reason or another, and so that was my decision to get involved on a personal level."

Penn, who has also served as a guest lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, has since returned to acting, appearing in the hit TV series How I Met Your Mother. He recently signed on to star in Battle Creek, a new crime drama being developed by Vince Gilligan, the force behind the Emmy Award-winning show, Breaking Bad. Penn also is the host of The Big Brain Theory, a Discovery Channel competition to find the nation's brightest engineer.  (at left: White House photo by Pete Souza)

Penn's ties with Washington remain. He served as national co-chair of Barack Obama's 2012 campaign and addressed the Democratic National Convention. On November 18, 2013, President Obama appointed him to serve on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. And last month Penn served as the master of ceremonies for the White House Student Film Festival.

Penn, whose full name is Kalpen Suresh Modi, earned his undergraduate degree from  UCLA and is finishing a graduate certificate in international security at Stanford University.

Emilie Savage-Smith, Fellow of the British Academy and Professor Emeritus of History of Islamic Science and Medicine at Oxford University, is a 1962 graduate of DePauw.  She went on to earn an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. A noted scholar in her field, Dr. Savage-Smith's publications include A New Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Volume 1: Medicine; Magic and Divination in Early Islam; Medieval Views of the Cosmos (with E. Edson); and Medieval Islamic Views of the Cosmos: The Book of Curiosities (with Y. Rapoport). She is also on the Council of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (formerly the British School of Archaeology in Iraq).

An acclaimed poet, Gjertrud Cecelia Schnackenberg has been awarded the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin, the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, and the Rome Prize in Creative Literature from the American Academy in Rome, as well as fellowships from the National Endowments for the Arts, The Radcliffe Institute, and the Guggenheim Foundation. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Schnackenberg's Heavenly Questions won the 2011 International Griffin Poetry Prize and her Throne of Labdacus  received the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry.  She is serving this year as the William B. Hart Poet-in-Residence at the American Academy in Rome and previously visited DePauw in March 2011.

For information on DePauw's 175th commencement, click here.

For a thirteenth consecutive year, DePauw University is offering its graduates-to-be and their families the opportunity to own a DVD capturing the 2014 commencement ceremony and an array of features that capture key moments that have taken place over the past four years. Learn more about the project and pre-order the disc in this summary.