Shawnta Walcott 11 M.A.R. delivers commencement address at University of Maryland

Shawnta Walcott ’11 M.A.R. delivered the main address at the December commencement exercises of her undergraduate alma mater, the University of Maryland, College-Park, School of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

WolcottIn her Dec. 19 speech to the new crop of graduates, Walcott recalled her own family history, including her father’s travails as a black man fighting against racial injustice in the segregated rural south of Poplarville, MS.

“Feeling compelled to stand up and push back against injustice, my father answered the call of a wayward group of civil rights demonstrators who suggested that he become the first African American to vote in Poplarville,” said Walcott.  “As result of his decision to challenge the system of racial oppression, violence and hatred, he was forced to abandon his relatives, his town of fond memories and his dream of attending his own commencement ceremony.”

Noting that “on occasion life experience allows me to borrow her pearls of wisdom to reflect upon some aspect of the hope, peace and prosperity promised to each one of us,” Walcott said she, too, made a commitment to fight racism while a student at Maryland and after graduation.  She pointed to her engagement in organizing talks among Jewish and Palestinian students, lobbying the University of Maryland to divest of investments in South Africa, and her work as political director for the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Walcott observed, “My student efforts in the area of human rights and social justice were significant motivators that lead to my current studies at Yale Divinity School.”

A 1990 graduate of the University of Maryland, Walcott has nearly 20 years of public relations and foreign policy experience, most recently as principal pollster and CEO of ARIEL & ETHAN, an independent polling and market research firm based in Bethesda, MD.  Previously, she was director of communications for the polling firm Zogby International, which she joined in 2003.

She served as close of service director for the United States Peace Corps (Benin, West Africa 1994-1996; St. Lucia, WI 2003); as a faculty and board member of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University (2005-2009); as electoral information center director for the National Democratic Institute (Haiti, 1999-2000); and as presidential elections pollster in Haiti for the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians (2005 and 2010).

Walcott's published work, appearances and comments can be found online in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal Online, New York Times (Business), Reuters (EU, Italy, US), MSNBC, CNN Money, AOL, Business Journal-Washington, CNBC, Black America Web National Association for Black Journalist (NABJ), Harvard Black Policy Conference and the Yale Globalist.

She was chosen Miss Black Missouri 1993 and in August of 2010 was named Miss Black USA Legacy Award Winner -- the pageant's first-ever award for social justice, service and academic achievement.

Posted: 01/03/2011

Revised: 01/04/2011