Talented Senior to Win $55,907 Sophie Kerr Prize
Chestertown, MD, May 19, 2006 — In recognition of their outstanding accomplishments and careers, MSNBC's Chris Matthews, lawyer and philanthropist Mortimer Caplin, and alumnus Jean-Francois Seznec '70 will be honored at Washington College's 224th Commencement on Sunday, May 21, 2006. Matthews, who will receive an Honorary Doctor of Letters, will deliver the keynote address to the 310 seniors graduating this year. Ceremonies begin at 10:30 a.m. on the Campus Lawn. Rain site is the Benjamin A. Johnson Lifetime Fitness Center by ticket only.
The College will also award the 39th annual Sophie Kerr Prize, the nation's largest writing award exclusively for undergraduates. With a prize valued at $55,907 this year, 31 seniors have submitted portfolios for the competition. During the 39 years that the Sophie Kerr Prize has been awarded, its value has ranged from $9,000 to as high as $65,000.
The prize was established by the will of the late Sophie Kerr, an editor and writer of serial fiction from Denton, Md. When she died in 1965, Kerr left the bulk of her estate to Washington College, specifying that one half of the income from her bequest be awarded every year to the senior showing the most "ability and promise for future fulfillment in the field of literary endeavor" and the other half be used to bring visiting writers to campus, to fund scholarships, and to help defray the costs of student publications.
Kerr was a prolific writer who began her career as a woman's page editor for thePittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph and the Pittsburgh Gazette and as managing editor of the Woman's Home Companion. During her lifetime she authored more than 100 stories and 23 novels.
Host of MSNBC's popular political talkshow Hardball,Matthews has distinguished himself as a broadcast journalist, newspaper bureau chief, presidential speechwriter, and best-selling author. Matthews covered the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first all-races election in South Africa, and the Good Friday Peace Talks in Northern Ireland. In 1997 and 1998, his digging in the National Archives produced a series of San Francisco Examiner scoops on the Nixon presidential tapes. Matthews has covered American presidential election campaigns since 1988, including the five-week recount of 2000. In 2005 he covered the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
Matthews worked for 15 years as a print journalist, 13 of them as Washington Bureau Chief for The San Francisco Examiner (1987-2000), and two years as a national columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle. Prior to that, Matthews spent 15 years in politics and government, working in the White House for four years under President Jimmy Carter as a Presidential speechwriter and on the President's Reorganization Project; in the U.S. Senate for five years on the staffs of Senator Frank Moss (Utah) and Senator Edmund Muskie (Maine); and as the top aide to Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Jr. for six years.
Matthews is the author of four best-selling books, including American: Beyond Our Grandest Notions (2002), a New York Times best seller. His first book, Hardball (1988), is required reading in many college-level political science courses. Kennedy & Nixon (1996) was named by The Readers Digest "Today's Best Non-fiction" and served as the basis of a documentary on the History Channel. Now, Let Me Tell What I Really Think (2001) was another New York Times bestseller.
A graduate of Holy Cross College, Matthews did graduate work in economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and worked for two years as a trade development advisor with the U.S. Peace Corps in the African nation of Swaziland. He is married to Kathleen Matthews, an award-winning news anchor for the ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington, DC.
A brilliant lawyer, a gifted teacher, and a champion for education and the arts, Mortimer M. Caplin has led a life dedicated to public service. In the mold of Alexander Hamilton, he served as U.S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue with the highest distinction. After military service during World War II, where he took part in the Omaha Beach landing, Caplin returned to practice law and to teach at his alma mater, the University of Virginia, specializing in tax and corporate law. He served on President John F. Kennedy's Task Force on Taxation and, in January 1961, was appointed U.S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. He remained in that post until July 1964, when he resigned to form Caplin & Drysdale, now recognized as one of the nation's leading tax law firms.
Throughout his career, Caplin has been deeply committed to public service, teaching, and the educational process. George Washington University, Peace Through Law Education Fund, The Shakespeare Theatre, and Arena Stage are just a few of the many organizations he has adopted. He holds the University of Virginia in special regard and under his leadership in the 1990s, UVA set a national record for a law school fundraising effort.
At UVA, he has provided major gifts for the Mortimer Caplin Public Service Center and related scholarships and awards, the Mortimer Caplin Reading Room, and the Daniel Caplin Professorship, among other initiatives. Caplin served for 12 years as the Chairman of the University of Virginia Council for the Arts, and now serves on the Governing Council of UVA Miller Center of Public Affairs and the Board of Directors of Environmental & Energy Study Institute. In recognition of his significant contributions, he recently was presented with the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Law, the University of Virginia's highest honor.
Among his many professional honors are the Alexander Hamilton Award conferred by the Secretary of the Treasury; the Achievement Award from the Tax Society of New York University; the Judge Learned Hand Human Relations Award from the American Jewish Committee; and the Tax Executives Institute Distinguished Service Award.
In recognition of his lifetime achievement in the field of tax and corporate law, his dedication to public service, and his significant philanthropic work, Washington College will present to Caplin an Honorary Doctor of Laws.
At every commencement, Washington College recognizes distinguished alumni whose personal and professional achievements, careers, and exemplary lives can be an inspiration to our newest alumni. This year Washington College recognizes Jean-Francois Seznec, Class of 1970, an expert in the political economy of the Persian Gulf, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, as well as at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.
With more than 25 years of experience in international banking and finance—10 of which were spent in the Middle East—Seznec is a frequent commentator in national and foreign media. His expertise centers on oil and politics, specifically the influence of the Arab-Persian Gulf political and social variables on the financial and oil markets in the region. With the insights he gained as a banker in Bahrain and his ongoing analysis of the region, he now serves as Senior Advisor to PFC Energy, a leading strategic advisory firm in global energy in Washington, DC, and as Managing Partner with The Lafayette Group, an investment firm specializing in the acquisition and management of chemical companies.
In addition to a bachelor's degree in international affairs from Washington College, Seznec holds a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University, as well as master's and doctoral degrees from Yale University. The author of The Financial Markets of the Arabian Gulf, Dr. Seznec has published and lectured extensively on the financial markets, political climates, and oil strategies at play in the Middle East. Most recently, he published an essay on Saudi Arabia's petrochemical strategy in Worth magazine and contributed an article entitled "Business as Usual: The Saudi-US Relationship" to the Harvard International Review. In recognition of his significant contributions to the public understanding of the complexities of Middle East affairs, Washington College will present to Seznec the Alumni Citation for Excellence in International Banking and Finance.
Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in historic Chestertown on Maryland's Eastern Shore.