Bill Bryson addresses 4,800 in the Drake Knapp Center.
AUTHOR AND ALUMNUS BILL BRYSON LIFTS SPIRITS BY SHARING HIS WIT AND WISDOM
By Rebecca Lee, AS’10
Bill Bryson receives his hood from Drake Provost Ron Troyer, left, and President David Maxwell.
At the start of the Bucksbaum event, Drake President David
Maxwell and Provost Ron Troyer presented Bryson with an honorary Doctor of
Humane Letters degree at the behest of the Drake Board of Trustees. They gave
him with a certificate and draped a hood over his shoulders to complete his
The ceremony took place before a crowd of 4,800 — the
largest audience ever for the Bucksbaum Lecture Series, which has featured many
notable speakers, such as Jane Goodall, Bill Moyers and Magic Johnson.
Bryson’s books include “Walk in the Woods,”
“A Short History of Nearly Everything,” and “The Life and Times
of the Thunderbolt Kid,” which describes his adventures growing up in Des
Moines during the 1950s. His books have won numerous awards, sold some 10
million copies and have been translated into more than 20 languages.
During his visit to Drake Thursday, Bryson met with students,
had lunch with alumni and friends and held an informal question-and-answer
session at Cowles Library. He also received the Alumni Achievement Award — the
highest honor bestowed by the Drake National Alumni Association.
Bryson, who received his bachelor’s degree from Drake in
1977, told the crowd Thursday night that he greatly appreciated the many
honors, adding that, “It only took me seven years to get through
Drake,” he said. “If I’d have known they were just going to give me a
degree. . . “
Bill Bryson enjoys a hug from his 96-year-old mother, Mary McGuire Bryson, at the Bucksbaum Lecture.
He noted that she was 10 years old when her mother died
and that her father struggled to raise her and her three siblings while working
as a janitor at the stockyards in Omaha during the Great Depression.
Drake offered her a full scholarship and she became the
first female editor of the Times-Delphic, Drake’s student newspaper. Following
her graduation in 1936, she enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a
journalist for a local newspaper, where Bryson’s father was a nationally
respected sports writer.
Shortly after Bryson accepted the Alumni Achievement Award
Thursday afternoon, Drake junior Mallory George, editor in chief of the
Times-Delphic, gave Bryson a framed photo of his mother taken when she was a
student at Drake. Accompanying the photo was the following inscription:
“Drake University is proud to recognize the pioneer
spirit of Mary McGuire Bryson (LA’36), the first female editor of the
Times-Delphic and an example of true leadership for all campus women.”
Bryson brought the framed photo with him to the Bucksbaum
Lecture and showed it to the crowd before giving it to Drake President David
Maxwell, who presented it to Mary McGuire Bryson.
The Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture Series is made
possible by a gift from Melva and the late Martin Bucksbaum, longtime member of
Drake’s governing board. The series will continue next fall when poet Maya
Angelou delivers the 24th Bucksbaum Lecture at 7 p.m. Oct. 8 in the Drake Knapp
Longtime U.S. ambassador and advisor for Africa, Johnnie
Carson, LA’65, has been nominated as the next assistant secretary of state for
African affairs under the Obama administration. His appointment is awaiting
Carson is an active member of the Drake community, serving
on the Board of Trustees since 2004. He also won the Alumni Achievement Award
in 1993, recognizing his career in foreign service.
He currently serves as national intelligence officer for
Africa on the National Intelligence Council, which he joined in 2006. Carson’s
career accomplishments include serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda
(1991-1994), Zimbabwe (1995-1997) and Kenya (1999-2003).
Prior to his ambassadorships, Carson held positions at the
American Embassy in Nigeria, the American Embassy in Mozambique and the
American Embassy in Botswana. He also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in
In addition, Carson received the Champion of Prevention
Award by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The award recognized his
leadership in U.S. government measures to prevent HIV/AIDS in Kenya.
Carson received a bachelor’s degree in history and political
science from Drake in 1965. He then obtained his master’s degree in
international studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the
University of London. Carson was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Public
Service from Drake in 1998.
- Jennifer Jacobs Henderson, JO’90 — Young Alumni Achievement Award
- Carrie Blumenfeld, JO’00 — Young Alumni Loyalty Award
- Bill Bryson, LA’77 — Alumni Achievement Award
- Joan Behrendt Middleton, ED’63, GR’77 — Alumni Loyalty Award
- Richard Hartig, PH’73, GR’81 — Distinguished Service Award
L to R: Terry O’Quinn (John Locke) and Michael Emerson (Benjamin Linus).