C.J. (Chris) Chivers, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Michelle Johnson, James Forman Jr., and Elizabeth Edgar-Webkamigad are the featured speakers at Niagara University’s 2021 commencement ceremonies.

A New York Times reporter widely known as one of the most important war correspondents of this era; a groundbreaking lieutenant general in the Air Force; a leading critic of mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on people of color; and an indigenous community development specialist who has preserved and promoted the culture of the Anishinaabe people are the featured speakers at Niagara University’s 2021 commencement ceremonies. Niagara University’s Lewiston campus graduates will cross the stage at the outdoor amphitheatre at Artpark in Lewiston, N.Y., on May 20 and 22, and its Ontario graduates will celebrate during a virtual ceremony on June 28.

C.J. Chivers, a former reporter for The New York Times and current staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, will be the featured speaker at the graduate commencement ceremonies on Thursday, May 20. Chivers joined The Times in 1999 and worked in the New York City police bureau through the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 before becoming a foreign correspondent focusing on conflict, human rights, and the arms trade on assignments in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Chechnya, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere. He received the first of two Pulitzer Prizes as a member of a team reporting from Afghanistan and Pakistan; the second for a cover story about an Afghan war veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, which led to the veteran’s release from an Illinois prison.

A graduate of the U.S. Army's Ranger School and a former Marine, Chivers served in the Persian Gulf war and had peacekeeping duties during the Los Angeles riots in 1992 before transitioning to journalism in 1994. He is the author of two books: “The Fighters,” which chronicled the experiences of six American combatants in Afghanistan and Iraq; and “The Gun,” a history of automatic arms and their influence on human security and war.

Also that evening, Dr. Catherine Collins, an adjunct professor in Niagara University’s College of Education, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. She is a distinguished educator, author, and member of the New York State Board of Regents, who has dedicated much of her personal and professional life to promoting the twin issues of good health and a sound education, with a special emphasis on the needs of underserved youth/women and individuals in Western New York.

In addition to her role at Niagara, Dr. Collins is host of the Women’s Health radio show in Buffalo, N.Y., is co-chair of the Higher Education Committee, and chair of the Buffalo Black Achievers Scholarship Committee.

On Saturday, May 22, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Michelle Johnson, who served as superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy and as senior vice president and head of referee operations of the National Basketball Association, and James Forman Jr., professor at Yale Law School and a legal scholar and analyst who leads crucial conversations about the racial dimensions of crime and justice in America will speak at undergraduate commencement ceremonies.

Johnson will address graduates of Niagara University’s programs in business administration, education, hospitality and tourism management, and nursing during the morning ceremony.

Inspired to apply to the Air Force Academy after a bill signed by President Gerald Ford opened the doors of U.S. service academies to women, Johnson, a National Merit Scholar and standout high school basketball player, was accepted as a member of the second cohort of women to attend the academy. Her years at the academy were marked by several firsts, including being the first woman cadet wing commander and the academy’s first woman Rhodes Scholar. She also played four full years of basketball and established a record as the second-highest scorer in the program’s history.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in 1981, and master’s degrees from Oxford University and the National War College in Washington, D.C., Johnson embarked on a military career that included a series of command assignments in Operation Southern Watch, Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

She also served as a faculty member at the Air Force Academy and held a variety of senior military executive positions before her appointment as deputy chief of staff, Operations and Intelligence, at the military headquarters of NATO in Brussels. She received numerous medals, decorations, and promotions in recognition of her unfailing commitment to competence, resilience, and integrity, culminating in her appointment, in August 2013, as lieutenant general and superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy, the first woman to lead a Department of Defense service academy. When she retired four years later to accept the position of senior vice president and head of referee operations of the National Basketball Association, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

That afternoon, graduates from Niagara’s College of Arts and Sciences will hear from James Forman Jr. The son of James Forman Sr. and Constancia Romilly, both civil rights activists and leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Forman has continued their legacy in searching for answers to some of the most difficult social problems of our time including, most recently, the deadly consequences of mass incarceration on black neighborhoods. He is a member of the faculty of law at Yale University, where he teaches and writes in the areas of criminal procedure and criminal law policy, constitutional law, and juvenile justice. His Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Locking Up Our Own,” looks at the war on crime that began in the 1970s, why it was supported by many African American leaders in the nation’s urban centers, and the policies that contributed heavily to the present-day mass incarceration of blacks.

A graduate of Brown University and Yale Law School, Forman’s law career included positions as a clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and as a member of the legal staff the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C. His frustration and disappointment in the criminal justice system’s inability to prevent troubled young people from “becoming [his] clients in the first place,” led him to co-found Maya Angelou Public Charter High School in 1997, an alternative school for dropouts and youth who had previously been arrested. In its first year, the school served 20 students who were on probation or committed to the city’s Youth and Rehabilitation Services. By 2004, the school had grown enough to require a second campus and, in 2007, it expanded its program to include instruction in the D.C. Juvenile Prison, replacing a system widely acknowledged as a failure.

On Monday, June 28, Elizabeth Edgar-Webkamigad, director of Health and Human Services for Batchewana First Nation, will provide remarks for Niagara University in Ontario graduates.

Originally from Wiikwemikoong, Manitoulin Island, Edgar-Webkamigad comes from the Crane clan and is Ojibwe and Pottowattomi. For more than 30 years, she has promoted and provided for the health and well-being of her community while advocating for greater understanding of the culture of the Anishinaabe people. 

Edgar-Webkamigad has served Canada and the United States as a youth/children's trainer and a family and community development specialist in a variety of roles. She managed the Sault Ste. Marie Indian Friendship Centre’s youth program for eight years before becoming its executive director in 2007, and held teaching positions at several post-secondary institutions, including Sault College. In 2014, she was appointed to the Ontario College of Teachers Council. She also served as director of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, led the way in assisting Algoma University to fulfill its special mission of cross-cultural learning and education, and was the lead in programming around education and awareness on the history of the Residential School Era in Canada, working in partnership with the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association. 

For the past nine years, she has worked to build the Baawaating Family Health Team, an association of family physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, registered practical nurses, social workers, and other allied health professionals who work together to provide primary healthcare to Aboriginal, Metis, and First Nations people residing in the Sault Ste. Marie area who do not have access to primary healthcare. She recently resigned that position to take on her current role. 

Edgar-Webkamigad holds a bachelor of education from Queen’s University and a bachelor of arts in Anishinaabemowin from Algoma University and Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig.


Your Thoughts