August 26, 2020
Gonzaga News Service

SPOKANE, Wash. — Fawn Rena Sharp, a 1991 Gonzaga University alumna who serves as president of the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah, Washington, and president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), will deliver the keynote address at ceremonies (remote) celebrating Gonzaga’s 127th commencement exercises Sept. 5-6.

The combined graduate and law commencement ceremony begins at 9 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 5 while the undergraduate ceremony begins at 9 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 6; commencement Mass begins at 4 p.m. Sept. 5. All ceremonies will be featured at where they will be viewable afterward as well.

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Gonzaga will honor Sharp at both ceremonies, with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in recognition of her commitment to bringing hope and promise to the Quinault people and to all Indian Nations, and her service to the cause of human rights in America and worldwide. 

Kristin Miller, who is receiving a master’s degree in communication and leadership studies, will speak for graduate students. Miller is an advocate for women’s empowerment, and diversity and inclusion. After graduating from high school in Baltimore, Maryland, she achieved a bachelor’s degree in clinical exercise science from Ithaca College and decided to pursue a growing interest in communication. She began a lifestyle blog and plans to leverage her Gonzaga education and experience to pursue a career in public relations.

Dane O’Driscoll, who is earning a juris doctor degree, will speak for Gonzaga Law School graduates. O’Driscoll plans to practice law in Spokane. After attending a Jesuit high school in Ohio, he received a football scholarship from Duquesne University where he earned a degree in psychology and business while playing four years as a defensive end. An active member of the Student Bar Association in the Gonzaga Law School, he also worked in for the school’s Legal Assistance program in the areas of elder law and federal taxation.

Arcelia Martin was chosen by her classmates to speak for undergraduates. Martin, who served as editor of The Gonzaga Bulletin during her senior year, is on a path to becoming a journalist. Hailing from San Diego, California, she aims to report on the lives of immigrants and the issues around the topic of immigration. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in writing and political science from Gonzaga University, and is attending the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Gonzaga to Confer 2,401 Degrees

Gonzaga expects to confer a total of 2,401 undergraduate, graduate and law degrees (2,163 in May 2019), including: 1,436 bachelor’s degrees (1,323 in 2019), 791 master’s degrees (675 in 2019), 70 doctorates (57 in 2019), and 104 law degrees (108 in 2019).

Following the program for each ceremony, students will be recognized by their schools following introductory remarks by each dean. Each graduate has been invited to upload a personal photo and text message for their ceremony slide, which lists their degree, Latin honors, academic honors awards, and Magis awards. Each graduate also has the opportunity to upload a short video message that will be incorporated into an individualized recognition clip after the ceremony — a digital file that opens with a montage of campus shots, their ceremony slide, their video message, and a closing congratulations message. This is a keepsake gift that can be shared with family, friends, and on social media to announce the students’ achievements.

While ceremonies are remote, Gonzaga has incorporated many of the commencement traditions, including the use of Gonzaga’s coat of arms, the banners for each school on stage with deans, the National Anthem featuring The Big Bing Theory, an a capella club, personal name readers, and the Angus Scot Pipe Band for processional and recessional music.

Graduation packages are being sent to all students who have graduated or will graduate with a 2020 degree date; the packages are to arrive before the ceremony weekend and include a diploma cover and ceremony program booklet, among other gift items.

Distinguished Honoree: Fawn Rena Sharp

While her 4-year-old peers were playing with dolls, Fawn Rena Sharp was admiring the bravery of a man who had been clubbed, tear-gassed and jailed in his fight to protect the livelihood of her family and tribal community. Born in Aberdeen, Washington, Sharp’s lineage includes links to several tribes, and to Chief Tendoy, a Lemhi Shoshone (also called Akaitikka), a broker of peace between tribes in Idaho. Her mother was recording secretary for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Fawn sharp-credit-Kenrick Escalant
Fawn Rena Sharp (photo courtesy Kenrick Escalant)
After graduating from high school at age 15, Sharp spent the first two years of her higher education at a community college close to home to help care for her ailing grandfather. At age 18, she transferred to Gonzaga where she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice (’91). After working for the CIA, she earned a law degree from University of Washington and studied international human rights at Oxford University in England.

She worked as a judge and lawyer in private practice, as staff attorney for the Quinault Indian Nation, an administrative law judge for the Washington State Department of Revenue, an associate judge for the Quinault Tribal Court, and counsel for a firm specializing in elder law. She has served as a trustee for Grays Harbor College, governor and trustee of the Washington State Bar Association, founding member and vice president of the National Intertribal Tax Alliance, and director of the Quinault Nation Enterprises Board. Her work has been widely published and she has conducted lectures nationwide.

In in her fifth term as president of the Quinault Indian Nation, is the 23rd president of the National Congress of American Indians — the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native tribal government organization in the country. She is the third woman to hold the position of NCAI president and was the first woman elected as president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. She has been recognized by the United Nations as one of the foremost experts on the human rights of indigenous people globally.

Sharp has dedicated her life to helping her people. She is an advocate for issues surrounding climate change and has inspired her own children to join her in this crusade. She has been committed to providing access to education at all levels, resources for physical and mental health, opportunities for the people of the Quinault Nation to learn about their ancestry and have safe, rewarding and inspired futures.

“It is time for us to be remembered, not forgotten,” she has said, “and for the transgressions against us of the past to give way to the opportunities of the future. Our path is one we need to travel together.”

For more information about commencement visit or contact Angela Ruff.

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