Drake University to celebrate 146th commencement, Harkin and Wittern to receive honorary degrees

DES MOINES, Iowa – (May 13, 2019) – Drake University will award 1,134 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees at its 2019 commencement ceremonies to be held Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19, in The Knapp Center, 2525 Forest Ave. A highlight of the undergraduate ceremony at 10 a.m. Sunday will be the presentation of honorary degrees to U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (retired), and F.A. “Art” Wittern Jr., chairman of the board and former president and CEO of the Wittern Group.

“As we gather to celebrate the achievements of our Class of 2019, it is an honor to also recognize Senator Harkin and Mr. Wittern, two loyal Drake supporters whose achievements in public service and business have had a transformative impact on our communities, both locally and globally,” said Drake University President Marty Martin. “They are inspirations to us all, and we are honored to have them as members of the Drake family.”

Senator Harkin, who served as a U.S. Senator for Iowa from 1985 until retiring in 2015, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Public Service in recognition of his unwavering commitment to improving lives through the creation of meaningful social and political change.

As a young senator, Harkin was tapped by Senator Ted Kennedy to craft legislation to protect the civil rights of millions of Americans with physical and mental disabilities. He knew firsthand about the challenges facing people with disabilities from his late brother, Frank, who was deaf from an early age. What emerged from that process would later become his signature legislative achievement—The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA changed the landscape of America by requiring buildings and transportation to be wheelchair accessible, and to provide workplace accommodations for people with disabilities. To preserve the intent of the ADA after several court rulings weakened its standards, Senators Harkin and Orrin Hatch introduced the ADA Amendments bill to ensure continuing protections from discrimination for all Americans with disabilities. It was signed into law in September 2008.

Throughout his career, Senator Harkin has remained highly committed to Drake University. In 2013, Senator Harkin and Ruth Harkin established The Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement at Drake University to inform citizens, inspire creative cooperation, and catalyze change on issues of social justice, fairness, and opportunity. Since its establishment, The Harkin Institute has grown substantially in both staff and programming and become a powerful vehicle for advancing important work in the areas of labor and employment, wellness and nutrition, retirement security, and people with disabilities.

In addition to The Harkin Institute, Senator Harkin donated historical papers and materials from 40 years of service in the U.S. Congress to Drake University, which are housed in the Drake University Archives in Cowles Library and available for research purposes.

Wittern, who is chairman of the board and former president and CEO of the Wittern Group—a third generation, family-owned vending equipment manufacturer based in Clive, Iowa—will receive an Honorary Doctor of Business Administration in recognition of his visionary corporate leadership, entrepreneurship, and philanthropic commitment.

Wittern attended Drake University’s College of Business in 1956, while also serving in the U.S. Army National Guard. In 1959, Wittern left Drake due to family obligations—one semester short of completing his degree requirements. He joined the family business and quickly assumed responsibilities for all aspects of the business, from equipment design/engineering, to manufacturing, sales and marketing, and establishing unique and creative acquisition financing for Wittern Group customers.

A family-owned business for more than 75 years, The Wittern Group has evolved from a manufacturing business located in the garage of a home on the East side of Des Moines into a successful, diverse group of companies, with millions of units of equipment placed in locations nationwide and around the world. The company employs more than 400 Central Iowans and continues to manufacture all of its products at its 375,000-square foot facility in Clive, Iowa, where it has been headquartered since the early 1960’s.

Wittern’s visionary leadership and innovative thinking led to numerous patents and product designs, including glass front merchandisers and the revolutionary multi-zone frozen vending machine.

In addition to his dedication to the family business, he is the founder of The Wittern Family Foundation, supporting multiple non-profit organizations such as Drake University, and the Wittern Family Scholarship Foundation, providing post-secondary scholarship assistance to children of employees of the Wittern Group. Furthermore, he champions and serves on several community boards.

Honorary degree recipients were selected by the Honorary Degree and Drake Medal Committee, and approved by the Faculty Senate and Drake University Board of Trustees.

Commencement ceremonies and activities to honor graduates
Drake University will provide live and archived streaming video coverage for all ceremonies. Live coverage will begin approximately 15 minutes prior to the start of each ceremony at live.drake.edu. The commencement schedule is as follows:

Saturday, May 18, 3 p.m. — College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Doctoral Hooding and Commencement Ceremony.

Saturday, May 18, 7 p.m. — The Law School Commencement.

Sunday, May 19, 10 a.m. — The 146th Commencement Ceremony for Undergraduate Degree Recipients.

Sunday, May 19, 2 p.m. — The 146th Commencement Ceremony for Graduate and Doctoral Degree Recipients.

More information is available at www.drake.edu/registrar/commencement/springcommencement.