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Dennis Shields Named Commencement Speaker

Dennis Shields, JD is a Graceland trustee and alumnus from 1977 who currently leads Southern University, the only system of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States


Alumni, Press Release

March 23, 2023 | Shane Adams

On Friday, Graceland University President Patricia H. Draves announced Dennis Shields, JD ’77 as Graceland’s Commencement speaker for the Spring 2023 ceremony, scheduled to be held on Sunday, April 30, 2023, in Morden Center on the University’s Lamoni, Iowa campus.

Graceland Board of Trustees Chair Mike Wiley, PhD ’83 said, “I’ve greatly appreciated Dennis’ many impactful contributions to the Board over his years of service; such as Chair of the Academic Affairs Committee, an influential member of the Trusteeship Committee, and a leading voice on several important ad hoc working groups.” He continued, “I’m thrilled for him to return to ‘the Hill’ once again to offer his words of inspiration and encouragement to this graduating class!”

In the fall of 2022, Shields was named president-chancellor of Southern University, the only historically black college system in the United States. As president-chancellor of the only system of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States, he is charged with the administrative oversight of five campuses in Louisiana — Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Southern University at New Orleans, Southern University Shreveport, Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, and Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Baton Rouge.

“We are so fortunate to have Dennis as a proud Graceland graduate and member of our board of trustees,” said Draves. “His wisdom acquired during his years of leadership in higher education and his love for Graceland will bring a unique message to our graduating class.”

A native of Johnston, Iowa, Shields met Lois ’51 and Jack ’49 Braby, who immediately took an interest in him, inviting him to their home and taking him to summer camps. Their support led him to Graceland, where he was a standout student and basketball player. His experiences as a basketball player as well as the president of the Black Student Union informed his leadership style throughout his career. “Graceland gave me the insight and self-awareness I needed to get my first job in higher education,” Shields recalled.

His career as a higher education leader has led to distinguished roles, including a previous role as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Platteville. Those roles ultimately prepared him for a role he had been seeking for many years, leading a historically black college or university (HBCU). Shields’ childhood friend, Don Hall, told him that the position at Southern University was “what you’ve been preparing for your whole life.”

Shields has chaired the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Division III, and he currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) where he participates on its steering committee, teaches at its annual Summer Institute, and serves as a mentor to its Millennium Protégés.

As Shields prepares to address Graceland’s graduates, his time as a trustee is winding down, but his influence on the board will remain, as will his love for the University.

“Graceland is full of aspirers – people who want to do something, who want to improve the world. My Graceland experience had good and bad moments, but those opportunities helped me move forward,” Shields continued. “The opportunities I had at Graceland helped me learn important leadership lessons through immersion and that gave me the ability to insert myself into circumstances that I might not have otherwise. I am honored to address the graduating class of 2023.”

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