3/25/2016 Peter Durantine

Gov. Wolf to Give Commencement Address; Award-Winning Playwright, Lancaster Mayor and Wife to be Honored

Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas W. Wolf will deliver Franklin & Marshall College's Commencement address on May 7.

Accompanying the governor will be his wife, First Lady Frances Wolf, a graduate of F&M and a member of the College's Board of Trustees.

"It's certainly an honor to know that my wife and I will share degrees from such a prestigious institution as F&M," Wolf said. "Frances and I believe that a liberal arts education is something as important today as it's ever been."

  • Gov. Tom Wolf Gov. Tom Wolf Image Credit: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Wolf had never campaigned for elected office when he defeated an incumbent governor in November 2014. A York County native – he still lives in the home he grew up in – Wolf attended Dartmouth College. He interrupted his academic career to spend two years working for the Peace Corps in a small village in India, later earning graduate degrees from the University of London and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

With two cousins, Wolf purchased the family's lumber distribution and building products business, the Wolf Organization. They sold the business 25 years later and Wolf went on to serve as Pennsylvania's secretary of revenue for Gov. Ed Rendell. He eventually returned to the family enterprise to rescue the company from the brink of bankruptcy. 

Also accomplished, Frances Wolf earned an undergraduate degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. Nearly two decades later, she returned to college and earned a degree in art and art history at F&M in 1996. She also holds a master's degree in the history of art from Bryn Mawr College. A painter, her works exhibit throughout Pennsylvania. She joined F&M's board in 2004 and is now a vice chair.

The Wolfs have been married for 39 years and have two grown daughters, Sarah and Katie.

In addition to Gov. Wolf, the College will award honorary degrees to Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray and his wife, Gail Gray, as well as actress and playwright Nilaja Sun '96.

  • Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray Image Credit: Eric Forberger

Despite divergent backgrounds, the Grays are known for their work as a team, combining their individual talents to resolve issues and find solutions, whether for the City of Lancaster or for the arts community. 

A graduate of American University and Dickinson School of Law, Rick Gray served as an attorney for the indigent in Pittsburgh before becoming director of Legal Services of Central Pennsylvania. In 2005, he was elected mayor of Lancaster.  

An artist and businesswoman, Gail Gray earned a fine arts degree in painting and design, and a graduate degree in printmaking from Carnegie Mellon University. She has exhibited in juried and invitational art events nationally, regionally and locally, and maintains a studio in downtown Lancaster.

"To receive recognition of this nature from a college of the stature of F&M is both exciting and humbling," Mayor Gray said. 

An actor, playwright and teaching artist, Sun is best known for her Obie award-winning solo piece, “No Child ..." It had its initial off-Broadway run at the Barrow Street Theatre from July 2006 to June 2007 and was recently revived there in an extended run. Described by critics as "an extraordinarily fluid actor," Sun has appeared in television and movie roles in such productions as "Madam Secretary" and "The International."

  • Actress and Playwright Nilaja Sun Actress and Playwright Nilaja Sun Image Credit: Nilaja Sun

Sun, who majored in theatre and wrote her first play, "La Nubia Latina," at the College, said she continues to appreciate the artistic opportunities afforded her as a student, and would not have become the performer she is today without F&M.

"That's the great thing about F&M," Sun said. "You always feel well supported in its theatre program."

Sun's creation and performance of "No Child ... " and its subsequent national tour, garnered a total of 21 awards including a Lucille Lortel Award, two Outer Critics Circle Awards including the John Gassner Playwriting Award for Outstanding New American Play, a Theatre World Award, the Helen Hayes Award and two NAACP Theatre Awards. She also received the 2008 Joseph Jefferson Award for Solo Performance for "No Child" at the Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago, and was named the Best One-Person Show at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. In 2010, she was recognized with the NOVA Award for Artist of the Year by terraNOVA Collective.

A native of Manhattan's Lower East Side, Sun is a Princess Grace Award winner and has worked as a teaching artist in New York City since 1998. 

"It is a privilege to present such a distinguished group of honorees to our students, their families, and other guests at this year's Commencement," F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield said. "We look forward to welcoming Gov. Wolf, Mayor Gray, Gail Gray and Nilaja Sun for our celebration of another successful year at Franklin & Marshall." 

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