2017 Commencement Speaker

Andrew Jacobs ’18

As graduation approaches, members of the Woodberry community have begun to shift their focus to one of the largest events of graduation weekend: the Commencement Speech.

This year, the school welcomes Charles Dew ’54 back to campus as the Commencement Speaker. Dew is a distinguished historian and teacher, focusing much of his work on Civil War-era Southern culture.

On top of several notable articles and essays, he has written award-winning books, including Ironmaker to the Confederacy: Joseph R. Anderson and the Tredegar Iron Works and Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. Both won the Fletcher Pratt Award, given by the Civil War Roundtable of New York for the best Civil War nonfiction book.

Dew left his hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida and came to Woodberry as a new boy fourth former. At first, he was taken aback by the strict daily schedule at Woodberry, but quickly fell in love with the school. After three years, he graduated magna cum laude and won the Princeton Book Prize for his excellent studying and reading habits.

Following his graduation, Dew travelled north to take after his brother and study at Williams College. It was there, in a seminar on the Confederate South, that he realized that he wanted to be an historian. Dew pursued his newfound passion and earned his PhD at Johns Hopkins University, then taught at Wayne State University, Louisiana State University, and the University of Missouri. In 1977, Dew returned to his alma mater of Williams College, where he has been teaching since.

Dew feels that much of his work is inspired by his childhood in the South, including his time at Woodberry. His recent memoir, The Making of a Racist, makes an example of the all-white, almost strictly-Southern Woodberry of the time, but does not discount the great education he received. The memoir reflects on his young life surrounded by segregation and racism in the South, and received national attention; Dew was a guest on National Public Radio to discuss his book and to explain his claim that the culture he grew up in made him into an “accidental racist.”

Charles Dew ’54 will speak on Amici Night, May 26th, and looks forward to passing on advice to this year’s graduates and learning more about the modern Woodberry.

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