William James College to Bestow Three Honorary Degrees at Graduation Ceremonies on Sunday, June 9th at the Park Plaza Hotel

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Keynote Speaker Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Framingham Police Chief Lester Baker, and affordable housing advocate Josephine McNeil to be honored at William James College’s 44th commencement.

NEWTON, Mass. – A nationally known public health pioneer and infectious disease specialist who served on the frontlines during the pandemic; a respected law enforcement leader who applies creative solutions to the challenges facing the city he serves; and an attorney and tireless community activist who advocates for affordable housing will be awarded honorary degrees at William James College Commencement ceremonies at 11:00 am on Sunday, June 11 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.  In addition to celebrating this year’s honorees, two hundred students will receive their diplomas during the program. 2024 marks the college’s 50th anniversary.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky served as the 19th Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2021 through 2023, a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School from 2012 through 2021, and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital from 2017 through 2021. She is an infectious disease clinician whose research career is guided by a belief that the clinical and economic outcomes of medical decisions can be improved through the explicit articulation of choices, the systematic assembly of evidence, and the careful assessment of comparative costs and benefits. Dr. Walensky has focused these beliefs on mathematical model-based research toward the promotion of global access to HIV prevention, screening, and care. Her ground-breaking work and over 300 research publications have motivated changes to US HIV testing and immigration policy; promoted expanded funding for HIV-related research, treatment, and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPfAR); and led to policy revisions toward aggressive HIV screening—especially for the underserved—and earlier treatment in resource-limited international settings. In light of these contributions, Dr. Walensky has been an active member of policy discussions at the WHO, UNAIDS, the DHHS HIV Guidelines Committee, and the NIH Office of AIDS Research. She is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dr. Walensky served on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Massachusetts until she joined the CDC on January 20th, 2021. While at the CDC, Dr. Walensky led the nation—and the world—through unprecedented times, navigating the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic and further facing the largest density of diverse infectious threats likely ever seen in this country. During her tenure, she participated in nearly 100 press conferences and countless media appearances and provided testimony at 17 Congressional hearings.

Dr. Walensky received her BA (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 1991) from Washington University in St. Louis, her MD from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (1995), and her MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health (Clinical Effectiveness, 2001). She completed her Internal Medicine residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital (1995-1998) and her Infectious Disease fellowship at the Massachusetts General/Brigham and Women’s Hospital combined program (1998-2001). 

Chief Lester Baker is a hands-on public safety administrator whose strategic and focused approach results in creative solutions to community challenges. He is a dedicated law enforcement professional who emphasizes equity, transparency, accountability, and evidence-based policing and crime prevention.

Sworn in as Framingham Police Chief in 2020, Baker first joined the department in 2003 after seven years with the Lexington, MA, Police Department. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in 2008, Lieutenant in 2014, and Deputy Chief in 2018.

Baker’s managerial and leadership style has produced a variety of his department’s community engagement efforts, including regular neighborhood meetings and the Jail Diversion Program (JDP). An advocate of JDP since its inception in 2003, this innovative program pairs specially trained crisis clinicians with police officers who partner to re-direct individuals committing non-violent offenses out of the criminal justice system and into more appropriate community-based behavioral health services.

In addition to his ongoing outreach efforts with local service organizations, activists and leaders, Baker also volunteers for several youth initiatives including the Police Athletic League’s boxing and basketball programs, the Read-Along program which targets children at the local elementary schools, and Bigs in Blue, a one-to-one mentoring program that connects youth with police in area communities to help build strong and trusting relationships. 

Baker is the recipient of numerous service recognitions, including MADD Greater Boston Officer of the Year, the Chief’s Service Award, Distinguished Service Award, Police Service Award, Meritorious Service Award, and other commendations. 

Baker earned a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement from Western New England University and a master’s degree in public administration from Framingham State University. He holds certifications from the Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education Program, the Senior Management Institute for Police, and FBI LEEDS.  

Josephine McNeil is the Executive Director of Citizens for Affordable Housing in Newton Development Organization, Inc. (CAN-DO), a community-based nonprofit that creates and manages affordable housing. Under her leadership, CAN-DO developed approximately 50 units of housing serving individuals with developmental disabilities, households headed by female survivors of domestic violence, and formerly homeless veterans. Forty-three of these units are deed-restricted, ensuring they remain affordable. McNeil has been lauded for collaborating with nonprofits and governmental agencies to provide supportive services and for launching programs that help residents gain the skills needed for financial self-sufficiency.

McNeil’s work is widely recognized across the Commonwealth and beyond. As Co-Chair of Uniting Citizens for Housing Affordability in Newton (U-CHAN), McNeil has been instrumental in educating community members about the need for housing options across income ranges. 

McNeil’s alma mater Boston College Law School honored her with its David Nelson Public Service Award. She received the City of Newton’s Mayor’s Medallion Award as well as an award from the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership for her work on behalf of CAN-DO’s tenants. She was recognized as a Women of Justice by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and named an Unsung Heroine by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. McNeil received the Woman of the Year award from the Women’s Law Center at Boston College Law School and was the recipient of the highest award presented by the Charles River Chamber of Commerce, the Robert L. Tennant Award for her advocacy of affordable housing in Newton.

McNeil— who has testified before Congress on affordable housing— continues to advocate for issues impacting housing stability for low-income families through her involvement in bar association activities at the state and national level. 

A graduate of Vassar College and the Boston College Law School, McNeil is a member of the Newton Wellesley Hospital Board of Governors and is a member of the City of Newton’s Fair Housing Committee, the Newton Housing Partnership, and the Eliot Church’s Mission and Social Commission. 


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