Gannon introduces commencement speakers


Michael Guido, News Editor

Gannon University has announced its commencement speakers for the spring graduation ceremonies in Erie and Ruskin, Fla.

Speaking at the Erie commencement ceremony, which will be held May 8 at the Erie Insurance Arena, will be Harry Hairston, a Gannon graduate from the Class of 1977 who recently retired after 17 years at NBC10 Philadelphia, where he worked as a senior investigative reporter.

Hairston gained prominence in 2015 as the first reporter to cover the sexual assault allegations filed against well-known actor and comedian Bill Cosby. In addition, Hairston uncovered and reported on a corruption story dealing with City Hall in Philadelphia and a candy drop box scam that resulted in the culprits being arrested and convicted.

Hairston further cemented his reputation by reporting on a New Jersey schoolteacher who was found to have bullied a special needs student while in class; his efforts in covering the story awarded him national and international respect and won him a Mid-Atlantic Emmy in 2012.

In addition to his investigative work, Hairston also interviewed Rabbi Fred Neulander, who was found guilty of murdering his wife in 1994; this resulted in Hairston winning a Mid-Atlantic Emmy in 2012.

According to Gannon’s press release announcing the speaker, Hairston’s passion is to “be the voice for those who feel they aren’t being heard.”

Hairston, a native of Pittsburgh, “participates in many community causes around heart disease, cancer research, mental health research and education, diversity and community improvement,” according to the university’s press release.

During the ceremony, Hairston will be presented with a Doctor of Humane Letters degree, honoris causa.

Speaking at the Ruskin commencement ceremony, which will be held May 15 at the Ruskin campus, will be Julie Kleber, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2011.

Currently, Kleber works as an oncology nurse at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

At the ceremony, Kleber, like Hairston, will be awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree, honoris causa.

While at Gannon, Kleber was a student-athlete who was a member of the women’s basketball team, which participated in the NCAA Division II Regional Championship.

According to a university press release, Kleber said that everyone she had known at Gannon was “authentic” and “genuine” and that she “has felt valued as a member of the Gannon family since her first day as a student.”

While at Gannon, Kleber said she became instilled with values reflecting the practices of giving back and serving others.

Those lessons have “become woven into the fabric of her hard work, adaptability and resiliency that she learned while managing athletics, education and personal time.”

In addition to her work as a nurse, Kleber is a member of the Gannon University National Alumni Board of Directors.

The announcement of the speakers comes at Gannon intends to have both ceremonies in-person despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, the university announced that graduates would be allowed to bring guests in accordance with changes made by Gov. Tom Wolf, which loosened the restrictions on occupancy limits and increased mass gathering maximums.

While the 2021 graduates will have their ceremony on Saturday, May 8, the class of 2020 will have a ceremony in-person the following day, Sunday, May 9, to compensate for the lack of a ceremony last year due to COVID-19.

Graduating seniors had mixed reactions to the choice of speaker.

Ian Headley, a senior history major, said that while Hairston seemed like a genuinely good person, he was confused by the selection.

“It’s a very odd choice for commencement speaker,” Headley said. “Almost all his work has to deal with some of the worst overall people.”

However, Headley said despite that, Hairston strikes him as someone who means well.

“He’s someone used to all that kind of garbage thought,” Headley said. “He wants to weed out the problems.”

Jacob Barilla, a senior forensic science major, said that he is interested in the direction Hairston’s speech will go.

“From what I gleaned from the introductory article, I have a lot to see and expect in Mr. Hairston’s address,” Barilla said.

Stay tuned for any additional details regarding commencement.


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