Noted Educator Les Purce to Deliver Commencement Address

May 10, 2009

Purce, Doc Watson to Receive Honorary Degrees at May 16 Ceremony

UNC Asheville Chancellor Anne Ponder will confer honorary doctoral degrees on Evergreen State College President Thomas "Les" Purce and legendary musician Arthel "Doc" Watson at the University's spring Commencement Ceremony. The ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 16, on UNC Asheville's Quad. Purce will give the commencement address to some 385 graduates.

Purce has served as president of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., a nationally recognized public liberal arts institution, for nine years. Purce has also held top-ranking administrative roles at Washington State University and Idaho State University. He has been a civic leader as well. Purce was the first black elected official in Idaho, serving as city councilman and then mayor of Pocatello. He later served as director of Idaho’s departments of Administration and Health & Welfare. In the private sector, Purce was partner and CEO of Power Engineering Inc., a large electrical engineering firm in the Northwest.

Purce has helped guide The Evergreen State College into its national reputation for interdisciplinary academic programs serving some 4,400 students. Instead of letter grades, professors give individual written evaluations; and rather than choosing a department or major, students design their own curriculums. Evergreen's 1,000-acre campus, including forests and salt water beaches, serve as inspiration for the college's dedication to sustainability. For example, a self-imposed student fee dictates that 100% of the college's electricity comes from "green" sources, L.E.E.D. gold certified buildings make up the campus, and more than a quarter of the food served in the dining hall is from local or organic sources.

Watson, a native of Western North Carolina, is a legendary guitar player, songwriter, and singer of bluegrass, folk and country music. Blind since the age of one, Watson attended North Carolina’s school for the visually impaired in Raleigh. Though he did well in the classroom, his true love was music. Watson got his big career break at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, and recorded his first solo album the following year. He has toured and recorded to rave reviews ever since.

His signature playing style and traditional mountain roots propelled Watson to an award-winning, patriarchal role in the American folk and bluegrass music revival. He has won seven Grammy Awards as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1997, Watson was given the National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton and in 2000 he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. But perhaps one of his most lasting marks on live music was the founding of the popular MerleFest music festival held every April in Wilkesboro, N.C. The festival, named in honor of Watson’s late son, draws more than 85,000 fans each year. Even at age 86, Watson continues to serve as festival host and center stage performer.