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Speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients Spring, 2019

The Spring, 2019 Commencement Featured Speakers were:

These College of Charleston alumni delivered their addresses to the graduates during the three graduation ceremonies in Cistern Yard on May 10 and 11, 2019.

Honorary degrees were also presented to:

  • NASA astronaut Charles Moss Duke, Jr.
  • Philanthropist  Maureen Kerrigan
  • Private investor and consultant Stephen Kerrigan

Sonya Renee Houston ‘86

For more than 20 years, Emmy Award-winning producer Sonya Renee Houston has played a major role in CNN’s live coverage of some of the most significant breaking news stories in the United States and around the world. As a producer, writer and production team leader, she has collaborated with world-class journalists and television anchors. Currently, Houston is senior producer for CNN NewsRoom based at the network’s global headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2011, she was honored with an Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for CNN’s coverage of “Revolution in Egypt: President Mubarak Steps Down.” She has also been recognized for her contribution to CNN’s Emmy Award for coverage of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and multiple Peabody Awards for coverage of U.S. presidential elections, Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Arab Spring, as well as an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award for CNN’s coverage of the Southeast Asia tsunamis. In 2016, she was a fellow at the Journalist Law School at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. Houston previously worked as a producer at WYFF-TV in Greenville, S.C., where her newscast was recognized for excellence by the Society of Professional Journalists and garnered several regional Emmy nominations. While at WYFF, she was also selected to study newsroom leadership at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla. Houston began her career at WCSC-TV in Charleston. Houston graduated from the College of Charleston in 1986 with a bachelor of arts in English and a minor in communications. In addition to editing the student newspaper, she was president of the co-ed service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, a peer mentor volunteer and a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society. She also regularly performed on her guitar in campus talent shows and events.

Jody Gottlieb ‘89

Jody Gottlieb is an internationally recognized producer and media executive. Her career as a storyteller has been devoted to using media as a force for positive change, with a focus on social justice, global health, conservation, the environment, religion, war and politics. As chief creative officer and executive producer for the Seattle-based Rainstream Media, she oversees the creation, development, and production of non-fiction scripted and unscripted content. She is the co-creator of Somebody Somewhere, a 2018 Spotify Editor’s Choice podcast. Previously, Gottlieb was the head of production and development for Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Productions, involved with network series, specials and digital content including Animal Planet’s, Ocean Warriors docuseries; feature documentaries including Netflix’s The Ivory Game, Amazon’s Midsummer In Newtown, and CNN’s Unseen Enemy; among others. Prior to that, Gottlieb served as the executive director of CNN Productions, the long-form programming division of CNN Worldwide and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., where she was responsible for all aspects of production for long-form and documentary programming for prime-time newscasts and for several weekly series and specials under the banners CNN PresentsCNN: Special Investigations Unit, and Amanpour Reports. At Turner Broadcasting, she was instrumental in numerous, large-scale initiatives involving the production and management of the Peabody Award-winning series The Cold War, as well as three weekly magazine format shows under the banner CNN Newsstand. An Academy Award nominee, Gottlieb has won multiple Emmy Awards and been highly recognized with dozens of major broadcasting and journalism honors including multiple Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University awards, the George Polk award and several Edward R. Murrow and George Foster Peabody awards. Jody currently lives in Seattle, Washington, where she is currently producing Season 2 of her podcast, Somebody Somewhere.

Ebony Jade Hilton-Buchholz ’04

Ebony Jade Hilton-Buchholz, M.D. made history in 2013 as she was hired as an anesthesiologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, making her the first African-American female to hold the position since the hospital opened in 1824. Hilton-Buchholz is currently practicing at the University of Virginia, where in her role as associate professor of anesthesiology, she has focused on exploring the issue of health disparities, particularly as it pertains to race, and bridging the gap between physicians and the communities they serve. Her works have led to her co-founding of GoodStock Consulting, LLC, a consulting group that connects hospitals, businesses, non-profit organizations and social service agencies to produce measurable health changes and equitable long-term healthcare impact within underserved communities. Her efforts have been recognized by the National Medical Association, as well as by the National Minority Quality Forum as one of the top 40 under 40 Leaders in Health Care award recipients. In addition to pioneering medicine, Hilton-Buchholz is a childrenʼs book author of the Ava Series, a public speaker and community activist. She graduated magna cum laude from the College of Charleston in 2004 with a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry, a bachelor of science degree in molecular biology and a bachelor of arts degree in inorganic chemistry. She received her doctor of medicine degree from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in 2008, and remained at MUSC for completion of her residency in anesthesia, followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. A native of Little Africa, S.C., she now lives in Virginia with her husband Avery.


» Read the College Today's article on the College of Charleston's Announcement of Commencement Speakers and Honorary Degree Recpients.

» Want to nominate a future commencement speaker? Or view the list of previous honorary degree receipients? Visit the Committee on Commencement Speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients webpage.