Commencement 2012: Marlen Suyapa Bodden to speak at URI’s 126th Commencement

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KINGSTON, R.I. — April 3, 2012 — Acclaimed author and human rights attorney with a passion for justice and defense of the disenfranchised, Marlen Suyapa Bodden has been named as speaker for the University of Rhode Island’s 126th undergraduate commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 20, 2012.

An attorney with The Legal Aid Society in New York, the nation’s oldest and largest legal services organization, Bodden has spent decades working in support of disadvantaged and immigrant communities. She tapped into this experience and her knowledge of human trafficking, human rights abuses, and modern day slavery to write her first novel, The Wedding Gift, a compelling historical novel set in pre-Civil War times.

In making the announcement URI President David M. Dooley said: “We are delighted that Marlen Bodden will return to our campus to inspire our graduates as they prepare to launch productive and meaningful lives as citizens of the world. When she spoke at URI earlier this year, her talk and her life’s work engaged students and reinforced our active commitment to community, equity and diversity. An inspiring speaker, advocate for the poor, and mentor of students, her work explores historical and modern day implications of the American slavery narrative.”

In recognition of Bodden’s unique contributions to the nation and her courageous and unflinching support for those whose voices are rarely heard she will be awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree during the undergraduate Commencement ceremony.

When she presented URI’s Annual Black History Month lecture in February, Bodden said she had been inspired to write The Wedding Gift (2011), after reading about a 19th Century court case in Talladega County, Ala. where a slave owner sued his wife for divorce and won the property rights to a young slave woman whom his wife had brought to the marriage as a wedding gift from her father. The story takes place in the antebellum period of the South, but modern-day slavery, Bodden said, parallels the appalling conditions of that time.

Bodden is a graduate of Tufts University and earned her law degree from New York University School of Law.