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USM to Present Honorary Degrees and Distinguished Achievement Awards at 131st Commencement on May 14

The University of Southern Maine will present two honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees, an honorary Doctor of Music, and three Distinguished Achievement Awards at its 131st Commencement, slated for Saturday, May 14 in the Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland.

Isle au Haut, Maine resident, best-selling author and swordfishing captain Linda Greenlaw will give the commencement address after being awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of her contribution to the cultural heritage of the coast of Maine. She received her bachelor’s degree in English and government from Colby College. America’s only female swordfishing captain, she is the author of four books about life as a commercial fisherman, two mysteries set in Maine, and two cookbooks she co-authored with her mother, Martha Greenlaw. Her most recent book, “Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to Sea” was released in 2010, and her most recent cookbook is forthcoming. Greenlaw is featured in the Discovery Channel series “Swords: Life on the Line.” She is the recipient of the Maine Women’s Fund 2007 Sarah Orne Jewett Award, and was presented the New England Book Award for nonfiction in 2004 and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award in 2003.

Carl Kasell of Washington D.C., whose voice many National Public Radio listeners recognize as judge and scorekeeper for NPR’s weekly news quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters for his contributions to public radio. Kasell has worked in radio since his high school days and, with Charles Kuralt, launched WUNC at the University of North Carolina while studying English. He went on to be the newscaster for NPR’s “Morning Edition” from 1979-2009 and now serves as NPR’s roving ambassador. Kasell received many awards during his career, including sharing the 2007 Peabody Award given to “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” and the 1999 Peabody, given to “Morning Edition.” In 2010, he was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.

Dona D. Vaughn, artistic director of Portland’s PORTopera, is being recognized with an Honorary Doctor of Music for her contributions to the cultural vitality of the region and her remarkable career in performance, directing, teaching and encouraging new talent. She graduated from Brevard College (voice), holds a B.A. in music (vocal performance) from Wesleyan and an M.A. in theatre (directing) from Hunter College. She began her career performing on Broadway, soon becoming a producer, dramaturge and director. Currently, she also serves as the artistic director of Opera Programs at the Manhattan School of Music. At PORTopera, she consistently presents opera of excellence while developing the talent of young Maine singers. Many USM students and alumni perform in PORTopera’s Young Artists Program.  PORTopera productions receive local, regional and national praise under her direction.

Three Maine residents, Robert S. Blackwood Jr. of South Portland, Everett “Brownie” Carson of Brunswick, and Nathan M. Nickerson of Portland will receive Distinguished Achievement Awards at the commencement ceremony.

Blackwood received a B.A. in history from Bowdoin College, then served five years in the U.S. Army where he reached the rank of captain. After beginning his career in banking at Casco Bank, he enrolled at USM, receiving an M.B.A. and a B.S. in accounting. He has been a tireless supporter of the university ever since, serving on numerous funding-raising campaigns. He also served as the founding chair and is still a member of the USM Advocacy Steering Committee, and is a past chair and current member of the USM Board of Visitors. Blackwood received the Hilltop Award, one of the USM Alumni Association’s top honors. He and his wife, Jill, established a USM scholarship for graduates of South Portland High School.

Carson spent much of his career guiding the Natural Resources Council of Maine as it inspired and mobilized Maine citizens to speak out for environmental initiatives and programs. Carson is a graduate of Bowdoin College, a former Marine platoon commander in Vietnam, and a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. During his tenure at NRCM, many of Maine’s landmark environmental laws were enacted, including expanding the Bottle Bill and the removal of the Edwards Dam to restore the Kennebec River. He also worked with former Senator George Mitchell to secure passage of the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. He is the winner of numerous environmental recognitions, including the 2007 Climate Protection Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nickerson is executive director of Konbit Sante, a local volunteer organization partnering with the northern Haitian health system. He will be recognized with a Distinguished Achievement Award for his extensive achievements in public health care.  Nickerson received a B.S. in mathematics and psychology from Tufts, a B.S. in nursing from USM, an M.S. in adult primary health care nursing from Simmons College and a Doctor of Public Health degree from the Boston University School of Public Health.  Nickerson worked for the City of Portland, serving as director of its Public Health Division, and as program manager of the city’s Adult Health Services, where he developed the Homeless Health Program, HIV treatment programs, and the Portland Community Free Clinic.