UPDATE: Fall commencement 2009 was canceled because of severe weather conditions.
The late Josefina Maria Niggli, a bigger-than-life writer and teacher who led the development of Western Carolina University’s theater arts program, will be honored with a posthumous honorary doctor of arts degree during fall commencement Saturday, Dec. 19.
The ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center. The event is open to everyone, and tickets are not required for admission.
Niggli was born in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1910, on the eve of the Mexican Revolution. Political turmoil forced her family to flee to the United States when she was 3 years old. Niggli published a book of poetry while earning a bachelor’s degree in Texas, and she wrote a three-act play for her thesis while earning a master’s degree in drama from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Niggli wrote plays, short stories, novels and screenplays during the 1930s and 1940s and worked in radio, television and film, scripting programs and writing for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox.
A graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism, Niggli held teaching positions at UNC-Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro before joining the WCU faculty in 1956 as journalism instructor and director of drama.
Niggli was regarded as a sensation and inspiration to legions of students during her two decades of teaching at WCU. Productions at the university’s Little Theatre became so popular that patrons drove in from Asheville on a winding, two-lane road to see them. The theatre was later renamed in her honor. Steve Carlisle, associate dean of the Honors College and a former Niggli student, said the professionalism that she instilled in her students “opened a lot of doors for us.”
“She turned wild horses into show horses,” Carlisle said. “I can’t imagine what my life would be without her.”
Niggli retired in 1976 and lived in Cullowhee until her death in 1983. With the 100th anniversary of her birth occurring in 2010, WCU’s Office of Undergraduate Studies is coordinating a campuswide celebration of her life.
The Dec. 19 commencement ceremony also will include the awarding of an honorary doctor of arts degree to bluegrass musician and WCU alumnus Marc Reagan Pruett. Jordan Parsons of Cullowhee, a graduating senior and member of WCU’s Honors College, will deliver the primary commencement address.
WCU’s fall class includes approximately 650 students who are currently completing academic requirements to receive their degrees. Other graduates who completed degree requirements during this year’s summer school sessions and who have already been conferred degrees also are eligible to participate in the Dec. 19 commencement.
WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo will preside over commencement and deliver the charge to the fall semester degree candidates and summer graduates.
The commencement audience should enter the Ramsey Center through one of four upper concourse doors. Those with physical disabilities should use the northeastern upper entrance, adjacent to the stands of E.J. Whitmire Stadium.