UNCG today announced that Margot Lee Shetterly, best-selling author of the book “Hidden Figures,” will present the commencement address to the university’s 2017 graduating class on Friday, May 12, at the Greensboro Coliseum. “Hidden Figures” was made into a major motion picture nominated for multiple Oscars and Golden Globe awards.
“We are honored to welcome Ms. Shetterly to UNCG as our 2017 Commencement speaker,” said UNCG Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. “I can’t think of a better person to address our graduating class with a message of excellence and opportunity – that regardless of your background or socioeconomic status, incredible things are possible with hard work and commitment. ‘Hidden Figures’ brings to life UNCG’s values of inclusion, opportunity and excellence. As our 2017 graduating class looks to the future, we are confident that they too, like the real-life heroes portrayed in ‘Hidden Figures,’ will go out into the world and accomplish great things.”
The book and film tell the story of the pioneering female mathematicians, known as “human computers,” who worked at NASA during the space race. “Hidden Figures” has a direct connection to UNCG; alumna Virginia Tucker ’30 was one of five trailblazing women to join the first human computer pool at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (now Langley Research Center) in 1935. Langley was the main research center for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor to NASA.
When World War II broke out in 1939, more women were recruited as computers to conduct wind tunnel testing and other critical research for the military. Tucker recruited heavily at institutions across the East Coast, including UNCG (known then as the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina). In fact, UNCG graduated one of the largest cohorts of women who went on to work as human computers.
Commencement speakers at UNCG date back to 1893, with then-Governor Elias Carr addressing the students. Since that time, the university has welcomed ambassadors, governors, authors, university presidents, professors, bishops, ministers and other notable speakers throughout its history.
Photography courtesy of Margot Lee Shetterly