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Walden News // Jan 10, 2019

"The Freedom Writers Diary” Author Erin Gruwell to Speak at Walden University’s Winter Commencement

Minneapolis—January 10, 2019—Erin Gruwell, author of “The Freedom Writers Diary” and inspiring educator known for her unique teaching method, will be the keynote speaker at Walden University’s 61st Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, January 19, 2019 in Tampa, Florida.

Walden’s nursing ceremony will feature Dr. Ernest Grant, the newly elected and first man to serve as president of the American Nurses Association (ANA), which represents the interests of the nation’s 4 million registered nurses. The doctoral ceremony will feature Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson, Walden’s 2018 Outstanding Alumni Award recipient and co-founder of DC Project Connect, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide crisis intervention for families and children affected by incarceration and support re-entry initiatives that strengthen families.

“We are thrilled Erin Gruwell, Dr. Ernest Grant and Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson are our winter commencement speakers, as their dedication toward advocacy and education serve as an inspiration to our graduates who are passionate about effecting positive social change,” says Dr. Ward Ulmer, interim president of Walden University. “Commencement is a wonderful reminder of Walden’s core purpose to motivate its students to be a force for good, and we look forward to celebrating our graduates’ distinguished achievements.”

Erin Gruwell
Erin Gruwell

Erin Gruwell
As an inner-city high school English teacher, Gruwell was charged with low-performing, underserved kids plagued by community violence and racial hostility. Gruwell used the stories of Anne Frank and Zlata Filipovic to help them recognize and embrace the power of writing and the adversities they shared among themselves and others. With these stories, Gruwell fostered a philosophy that values and promotes acceptance and diversity, helping her students chart their futures to become high school graduates, published writers and catalysts for change.

Dubbing themselves the “Freedom Writers”—in homage to civil rights activists—Gruwell and her students captured their journey in The New York Times best-selling “The Freedom Writers Diary.” Their story was also brought to the silver screen in the major motion picture “Freedom Writers” and chronicled in the documentary “Freedom Writer: Stories from the Heart,” which will air on PBS in the fall.

Now, as the founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation, Gruwell helps teachers implement her innovative lessons in their own classrooms. The foundation brings hope by sharing stories of overcoming adversity through education, develops interesting and substantive curricula for students, and awards scholarships to first-generation high school seniors and college students. As of 2018, the foundation has awarded close to 300 scholarships to those who have demonstrated remarkable academic promise despite considerable odds.

“As an educator, in earnest, I have passionately dedicated my career to the transformative power that education plays on a student, a class and a community,” says Gruwell. “I’m honored to address Walden University’s graduates to galvanize them to stand up, speak up and spark change around the world.”

Dr. Ernest Grant, RN, FAAN
Dr. Ernest Grant, RN, FAAN

Dr. Ernest Grant, RN, FAAN
Dr. Grant, the 36th president of the ANA, has more than 30 years of nursing experience and is an internationally recognized burn-care and fire-safety expert. In addition, he is an adjunct faculty member at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill School of Nursing, where he works with undergraduate and graduate nursing students in the classroom and clinical settings.

He previously served as the burn outreach coordinator for the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at the UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. In 2013, he received the B.T. Fowler Lifetime Achievement Award from the North Carolina Fire and Life Safety Education Council for making a difference in preventing the devastating effects of fire and burn injuries and deaths within the state. In 2002, President George W. Bush presented Dr. Grant with a Nurse of the Year Award for his work treating burn victims from the World Trade Center site.

“Walden University nursing students are committed to effecting positive social change, and, as graduates, they will have the opportunity to advance healthcare, influence policy and foster higher standards that enhance the patient experience,” says Dr. Grant. “I’m truly honored to be speaking to this graduating class as they continue their journey as members of a proud and trusted profession.”

Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson
Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson

Dr. Avon Hart-Johnson
In addition to serving as a faculty member in Walden’s Barbara Solomon School of Social Work and Human Services, Dr. Hart-Johnson’s passion lies in strengthening families affected by mass incarceration and criminal justice reform. Through her nonprofit, DC Project Connect, she meets with formerly incarcerated women in Washington’s only halfway house for women and is focusing her advocacy work on behalf of children with incarcerated parents.

Dr. Hart-Johnson is a founding board member of the International Coalition for Children with Incarcerated Parents, a global team comprised of NGOs, advocates, researchers and educators who are bridging nations to strengthen worldwide support of children impacted by incarceration. She also chairs the Advocacy in Action Coalition of the InterNational Prisoners Family Conference, which fosters grassroots social justice reform through collaboration with elected officials, congressional representatives and the community.

“I’m elated for the opportunity to celebrate fellow doctorates of the Walden family,” says Dr. Hart-Johnson. “They are poised to foster social change around the world through the critical contributions they will be making in their respective fields.”

The Walden University community honors its graduating students twice a year at summer and winter commencement ceremonies. On January 19, 2019, Walden’s graduation will begin with the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony at 9 a.m. ET, followed by the School of Nursing ceremony at 1 p.m. ET and the master's, bachelor's and specialist ceremony at 3:30 p.m. ET. The ceremony and keynote speakers can be viewed live via webcast at

About Walden University
For more than 45 years, Walden University has supported working professionals in achieving their academic goals and making a greater impact in their professions and communities. Students from the District of Columbia, all 50 states in the U.S. and more than 150 countries are pursuing their bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees online at Walden. The university offers more than 80 degree programs with over 385 specializations and concentrations. Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, It is also one of more than 70 institutions in 25 countries that make up the Laureate International Universities network. For more information about Walden, visit

Media Contact:
Sabrina Ram
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