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Posse Foundation Founder and President Named 2019 Convocation Speaker

Alum Deborah Bial will return to HGSE to deliver the Convocation address on May 29.

Debbie BialHarvard Graduate School of Education Dean Bridget Terry Long announced today that Deborah Bial, Ed.M.’96, Ed.D.’04, will address the graduating class and their families at Convocation on May 29, 2019. Bial is founder and president of The Posse Foundation, an influential and highly regarded nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the college aspirations of promising young leaders from diverse backgrounds.

Since its founding 30 years ago, Posse has sent thousands of talented students from underrepresented groups to selective colleges and universities in cohorts of 10 — “a Posse” — offering them support and community throughout their four years. All students are given full-tuition scholarships from Posse’s partner colleges as well as extensive mentoring. Posse Scholars graduate from college at a rate of 90 percent, helping to fuel the organization’s ultimate goal: to create a leadership network that better represents the country’s rich diversity.

“Debbie Bial has dedicated her career to improving college access and completion for underrepresented populations,” said Long. “She has long been an ardent advocate for a more inclusive admissions process, and under Debbie’s leadership, the Posse Foundation has become one of the most promising college success initiatives in the country. I know that Debbie’s passion and entrepreneurial spirit will inspire our graduates who hope to make their own impact on the world through education.”

Bial founded Posse in 1989, inspired by a student who had dropped out of an Ivy League institution but said he likely would’ve made it through if he’d had his “posse” with him. She developed a program that would recruit dynamic young people with leadership potential and offer them the access and support they would need to succeed in their higher education. Still fresh out of college herself, Bial recruited Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College as a partner, and the first Posse of five students, all from New York City, started college together. In the years since, the foundation has expanded to 10 cities and has partnered with 58 college and universities. It has built a reputation as one of the country’s most comprehensive college success and leadership development initiatives.

“It is an honor and a privilege to participate in Commencement this year. HGSE is a special place and, as an alumna, I will always feel personally connected to its mission, faculty, and students,” said Bial. “This year’s class graduates into a politically complex world struggling with deeply rooted challenges related to race, class, and gender.  We need HGSE graduates to address these challenges in an uncompromising way if we are going to build a better future for our children. I know they will — and the young people who will go to school in their districts, sit in their classrooms, and engage in their innovative programs will be the lucky beneficiaries.” 

Bial is also known for co-developing the Bial–Dale College Adaptability Index, which uses activity-based methods, rather than the traditional writing-based assessments, to gauge readiness and leadership potential in college-bound students. Bial developed the tool while she was a doctoral student at HGSE.

In 2007, Bial was named a MacArthur Fellow for her pioneering approach to expanding college access and heightening the focus on campus inclusivity. She was also awarded the Harold W. McGraw Prize in Education in 2013. The same year, she was the recipient of HGSE’s Anne Rowe Award. In 2010, when President Barack Obama won the Nobel Prize, he named Posse as one of 10 foundations with which he would share the prize money.

Due to capacity constraints, the event is restricted to HGSE faculty, students, staff, alumni, and guests of our 2019 graduates. Convocation ceremonies will be live-streamed. Check the HGSE Commencement page for updated information.