ITHACA, NY — Actress and activist CCH Pounder
has accepted an invitation to deliver the main address at Ithaca College’s Commencement ceremony on May 23, 2010. A 1975 graduate of the college, Pounder has numerous film, television and theater credits and is a cofounder of the nonprofit organization Artists for a New South Africa
(ANSA) and a board member of the African Millennium Foundation (AMF).
This past year has been an especially active one for Pounder. She can currently be seen on screen as the Na’vi spiritual leader Mo’at in the all-time box office champion “Avatar” and as Mrs. Frederic, the head of a secret government organization, in the Syfy network series “Warehouse 13.” She also starred on the Fox television comedy “Brothers.”
“CCH Pounder’s acting career has rightly earned her acclaim, but she brings more to this ceremony than her celebrity,” said Ithaca College president Tom Rochon. “As a strong proponent of nontraditional casting, she has encouraged artists to pursue roles that tap into their greatest strengths regardless of race or gender. As a social activist and patron of the arts, she links art to social justice. And as an alumna of the college, she brings a perspective that I am sure our graduating seniors and their guests will appreciate hearing.”
Born on a sugar cane estate in Guyana, Pounder was educated in England and later moved to the United States to enter the theater program at Ithaca College. Her talent caught the eye of drama professor Earl McCarroll, who encouraged her to hone her craft in regional theater. After stints in Louisville and Milwaukee she began performing in New York City, where director Bob Fosse spotted her and cast her in his film “All That Jazz.”
Notable performances followed in such films as “Bagdad Café,” “Prizzi’s Honor” and “Postcards from the Edge.” Among her numerous television credits are four roles that earned her Emmy Award nominations: Claudette Wyms on the critically acclaimed police drama “The Shield,” Dr. Angela Hicks on “ER” and guest appearances on “The X-Files” and “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.” In addition, Pounder received a Grammy Award nomination for best spoken word album for “Grow Old Along with Me, The Best is Yet to Be” and an Audio Publishers Association Audie Award for narrating “Women in the Material World.”
In 1989, Pounder teamed up with Alfre Woodard, Danny Glover, Mary Steenburgen, Blair Underwood and other members of the creative community — many of whom had long been involved in efforts against apartheid — to found an organization, now called Artists for a New South Africa. ANSA works in the U.S. and South Africa to combat HIV/AIDS, assist children orphaned by the disease and advance human and civil rights. The African Millennium Foundation is committed to the social and economic empowerment of people in Africa, especially women. The AMF targets poverty, hunger and disease at its very root by providing African women and children with the necessary tools for achieving self-sufficiency.
Beginning this year, the college has instituted a policy of selecting a Commencement speaker who is a notable alumnus or faculty member who has a deep connection to the institution and can deliver an address that is directly connected to the speaker’s experience with the college.
“Members of the Class of 2010 should feel both proud and privileged to have such a distinguished alumna speak at our Commencement,” said Kylie Burnside, president of the senior class. “I am confident that CCH Pounder’s unique journey, eloquent speaking ability and personal connection with Ithaca College will leave graduates and families both captivated and optimistic for the future. She is an exceptional woman and speaker to have starting this new tradition.”
In 1994, Pounder spent a week on campus as a Visiting Multicultural Fellow, speaking with students and faculty in classrooms and informal gatherings and interacting with members of the surrounding community. She joined with other drama alumni in 2007 to support the first-ever Los Angeles showcase, at which senior students in the Department of Theatre Arts performed before a group of casting directors, managers and agents.
Pounder and her husband, anthropologist Boubacar Kone, have been active in promoting the creative arts. In 1998, they built the Boribana Museum of Contemporary Art in Dakar, Senegal, for the study of cultures of the African Diaspora. They also founded the Pounder-Kone Artspace, an art salon for visual artists, writers and musicians in Los Angeles.