NEWPORT, R.I. - Salve Regina President Jane Gerety, RSM, will confer 678 degrees on Sunday, May 15, when the university celebrates its 61st commencement on the oceanside lawn of McAuley Hall. The academic procession steps off at 9:15 a.m., with the ceremony scheduled to begin beneath the commencement tent at 10 a.m.
Jill Biden, Second Lady to the United States, a 30-year educator and longtime community advocate, will present the commencement address and be awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters. Also receiving an honorary degree will be William Vareika, longtime Newport art gallery owner, preservationist and philanthropist.
Sister Jane will confer 678 degrees on Sunday, including 441 baccalaureate degrees, 212 master's degrees, 18 certificates of advanced graduate studies and seven doctorates.
Dr. Jill Biden and her family are close personal friends of Salve Regina University Trustee Nuala Pell and her family. Nuala is the wife of the late Sen. Claiborne Pell, who served 36 years in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Pell's legacy is honored at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, which was established at Salve Regina University by an Act of Congress in September 1996.
The wife of Vice President Joe Biden, Jill Biden has focused her efforts as Second Lady to highlighting the importance of community colleges, raising awareness about the sacrifices made by military families and bringing attention to women's health issues - including breast cancer.
She also continues to teach English full-time at a community college not far from the White House.
President Obama has asked Biden to help promote community colleges around the country and she works consistently on this outreach on behalf of the Administration. In October 2010, she hosted the first ever White House Summit on Community Colleges.
As a military mom, she understands first-hand how difficult it can be to have a loved one deployed overseas. She travels regularly to military bases in both the United States and abroad to speak with soldiers and their families, and to raise awareness for the special sacrifices that these Americans make.
Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama last week launched "Joining Forces," a comprehensive national initiative to mobilize all sectors of society to give our service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned. Biden has issued a national challenge to all Americans to take action and find ways to support and engage our military families in their own communities. Biden asks folks she meets to visit the web site serve.gov and share their stories about how they're supporting those who serve us every day.
Biden has also been active with a nonprofit organization called Delaware Boots on the Ground, which is dedicated to helping families during times of military deployment by organizing community events to raise awareness and support.
Prior to moving to Washington, D.C., Biden taught English at a community college in Delaware, at a public high school and at a psychiatric hospital for adolescents.
In 1993, after four of her friends were diagnosed with breast cancer, Biden started the Biden Breast Health Initiative in Delaware, which in the past 17 years has educated more than 10,000 high school girls about the importance of early detection of breast cancer. For the past two years, she and her husband have served as the Honorary Co-Chairs for the Global Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C.
She also founded Book Buddies in 2007. This is a program encouraging reading among children from low-income families. She has also been involved with a number of Jewish affiliated organizations in aspects of education and writing.
Biden earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware, masters degrees in education and reading from West Chester University and Villanova University respectively, and a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware.
The Bidens have three children: Ashley, a social worker; Beau, the Attorney General of the State of Delaware and a captain in the Delaware Army National Guard; and Hunter, a lawyer. They have two daughters-in law, Kathleen and Hallie, and are also the proud grandparents of five grandchildren: Naomi, Finnegan, Maisy, Natalie, and Hunter.
William Vareika owns one of the largest art galleries in New England, William Vareika Fine Arts, Ltd. His gallery includes the renowned Newport Gallery of American Art and Newport Gallery of World Art., specializing in the purchase and sale of important 18th, 19th and 20th century works of art.
For more than 20 years, Vareika has used his gallery to raise public awareness about a variety of charitable causes and to donate over $1 million to support these non-profit organizations. Honored as a "Partner in Philanthropy" by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Vareika has donated dozens of artworks to museums and other charitable organizations.
He was instrumental in acquiring 13 of John La Farge's stained-glass windows (circa 1890) that were restored and installed in Salve Regina's recently constructed Our Lady of Mercy Chapel. He has also frequently donated artwork for Salve Regina's corporate golf tournaments and given financial support for the award-winning restoration of Ochre Court, which serves as the university's main administration building.
In addition, he established the William Vareika Fine Arts Ltd Award for Arts and Public Policy, which is presented annually to a graduating senior who demonstrates an appreciation or talent for art as well as a social conscience.
Other local organizations to benefit from Vareika's charitable giving over the years include Save the Bay, Newport Art Museum, the Aquidneck Land Trust and the Potter League for Animals, among others.
He has served on the boards of the Newport Art Museum, the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, the Newport Music Festival, and Save The Bay. He also serves on a number of advisory committees, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College; the Trinity Boston Preservation Trust, the Hope Funds for Cancer Research, and the Aquidneck Land Trust. He is a former Vice-Chairman of the RI State Council on the Arts.
Vareika is an active alumnus of his alma mater, Boston College, where he graduated in 1974 with a degree in political science. He donated a collection of artworks to that university's McMullen Museum of Art, where he serves as a member of the Patrons Committee.
Vareika and his wife Alison have three children and live in an 1877 National Historic Register home in Newport.