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USM to Present Honorary Doctorate Degrees and Distinguished Achievement Award at 133rd Commencement

The University of Southern Maine has chosen Ashley F. Bryan and Everett J. “Vic” Firth to receive honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees. USM will also honor Mary G. F. Bitterman with a Distinguished Achievement award. The recipients will be acknowledged at USM’s 133rd Commencement ceremony on Saturday May, 11.

For the first time, USM will have two ceremonies due to the Cumberland County Civic Center renovation project. Ceremonies will be held at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., Saturday, May 11, in USM’s Costello Sports Complex Field House, Gorham. Bryan and Firth with receive their honorary doctorates during the morning ceremony, while Bitterman will be presented her Distinguished Achievement Award during the afternoon ceremony, at which she will give the commencement address. 

Bryan will be recognized for his contributions to the fields of art, education, the African-American cultural experience, and his enrichment of American culture.

In 1962, Bryan became the first African-American children’s book author and illustrator to be published. Since then he has published more than 30 illustrated children’s books, including his 2009 autobiography, “Words to My Life’s Song,” winner of the 2010 Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction. His art was featured in the 2011 University of Southern Maine Lewiston-Auburn College exhibition, “Tell Me a Story: Folktales and World Cultures.”

As a former serviceman, he was part of the Normandy invasion during WWII. As a professor he taught at Queen’s College-CUNY, Lafayette College, and Dartmouth College, where he chaired the Art Department and is now emeritus professor of art and design. As a resident of the Cranberry Isles he is known as the “Island Treasure” for inspiring others to create.

Firth will be recognized for his contributions to the fields of music performance, music education, and musical product innovation.

As the principal timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 50 seasons Firth is an icon in the music industry. He began as the youngest member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Pops Orchestra at the age of 21.

Now, his 17 compositions and eight percussion method books serve as the standard in many high school and collegiate curricula. His program, the Vic Firth Education Team, is the industry’s innovative force in providing resources to percussion education.

His company, Vic Firth, Inc., is the world’s largest and leading manufacturer of drumsticks. The manufacturing facility located in Newport, Maine employs nearly 150 Maine residents. The company promotes environmental responsibility by using recyclable paper for packing, recycling water, and collecting sawdust to use as fuel to heat the factory.

Bitterman’s extensive public service and her work in both public broadcasting and higher education contributed to her commendation.

As president of The Bernard Osher Foundation she has supported citizens through advocating for post-secondary scholarships, integrative medicine, and the creation of a national network of Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes. This includes the establishment of a National Resource Center on the Portland campus.

Previously, Bitterman was president and CEO of The James Irvine Foundation and of KQED, a major American public broadcasting center. She has produced several documentaries for public television and has written on telecommunications development and the role of media in developing societies.  She also received the 2006 Ralph Lowell Award for outstanding contributions to public television.