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Nearly 70 midyear candidates for graduation participate in recognition service at Berea College

December 12, 2010: During her address to Berea College's midyear graduation candidates, the "Mother of Appalachian Studies," Dr. Helen Matthews Lewis urged nearly 70 Berea College seniors to address societal issues spanning generations. In her speech "Entering the Unpredictable… Making the Road by Walking," Dr. Lewis encouraged seniors to address economic concerns, exploitation of fossil fuels, consumerism and other societal issues. "We, the older generation, will tell you that we are leaving you with many problems, but we hope you have the energy and courage to deal with the problems which we have caused because the road we have walked is probably the wrong one."

Dr. Helen Matthews Lewis

View the midyear graduation photo gallery.

"Never has a generation had the opportunity to make such really important changes as you do," said Dr. Lewis. "You can transform the world. You can actually save the planet. Recognize your place, not as the exploiter, not as one with dominion over the earth, but a neighbor and fellow participant in the world. Your education is not over. Keep learning from your experiences."

Her remarks preceded the awarding of degrees to nearly 70 seniors who are expected to complete degree requirement at the end of December 2010 or January 2011. Earlier in the ceremony, Dr. Larry Shinn, president of Berea College, presented Dr. Lewis with an honorary degree of doctor of humane letters. "I'm deeply honored to be receiving an honorary degree. I wish I had been a student at Berea and maybe with an honorary degree I'm also an honorary student," remarked Dr. Lewis. "So, congratulations to my classmates."

A founding member of the Appalachian Studies Association, Dr. Lewis, a sociologist, community educator, writer and former professor of sociology and anthropology, has taught at several college and universities and has authored numerous books about Appalachian issues. She taught at Clinch Valley College (now University of Virginia at Wise) from 1955-1977, University of Tennessee ( 1996-97), Berea College (1994-95), East Tennessee State University (1967-69), Appalachian State University (1980, 1999,2001,2002,2004) and was a staff member at Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee (1977-1997). In 2001 she served as president of Appalachian Studies Association and from 1993-95 served as interim director of Berea College's Appalachian center.

Author of books and articles on Appalachian issues, particularly coal-mining families and communities, Lewis worked with Appalshop, an arts and education center in Whitesburg, Kentucky, to develop a film series on Appalachia. Her books include "Mountain Sisters: From Convent to Community in Appalachia," (University Press of Kentucky, 2003); "It Comes From the People, Community Development and Local Theology" (1995) and "Colonialism in Modern America: The Appalachian Case" (Appalachian Consortium Press, 1978.)

Dr. Lewis received her bachelor's degree from Georgia State College for Women in 1946, a master's degree in sociology from University of Virginia in 1949 and her doctorate in sociology from University of Kentucky in 1970.

Lewis lives in north Georgia and continues to teach part time and consult on community-based research, film and video projects and humanities projects involving oral history, Appalachian culture and social issues.

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