James O. Ellis III, an educator, swim coach and inspirational speaker, will address graduates at Philadelphia University’s Commencement on Sunday, May 13, at 11 a.m. at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. He will be awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters.
D. Walter Cohen, D.D.S., chancellor emeritus of Drexel University College of Medicine, also will be awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters at Commencement. George Y.V. King ’69 H’11, managing director of Wearbest Garment Manufacturing Co., Ltd., received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters in Hong Kong in the fall. Ingrid Johnson ’73 will give the alumni speech.
Ellis’s life and career served as the inspiration for the 2007 film Pride, starring Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, Kimberly Elise and Tom Arnold. In 1971, Ellis founded the Sayre Swim Club and began recruiting and coaching troubled teenagers for a swim program with the Philadelphia Recreation Department. In more than 30 years with the department, Ellis has helped swimmers succeed at the highest levels of competition, including in Olympic trials, the Pan American Games, Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, World University Games, and United States Swimming National Junior Team. He has coached his teams to top 10 finishes at the U.S. Senior and Junior National Championships, and many of the athletes under his tutelage have used their swimming success to earn scholarships from colleges and universities around the country.
More than a swim coach, Ellis has dedicated his life to helping young people learn to believe in themselves and word hard to achieve great things. He has taught mathematics for over thirty years in Philadelphia and the Chester-Upland School District. He also maintains an international speaking schedule, delivering inspirational speeches at universities, corporations and schools around the world.
“Jim Ellis has long inspired his students to strive for excellence in every aspect of their lives, whether they are in or out of the swimming pool. Jim is committed to advancing the lives of young people in Philadelphia and around the world,” said President Stephen Spinelli Jr., Ph.D. “His drive is contagious, and I am delighted to welcome him as the Philadelphia University 2012 commencement speaker.”
Ellis has been recognized numerous times for his achievements. Since 1996, he has been a member of the U.S. Swimming National Team Coaches List, and in 2002 he served as U.S. Swimming, National Jr. Team Coach in Australia. He has also served as Senior Chairman of Middle Atlantic Swimming and as a member of the Outreach Committee of U.S. Swimming, with which he helped develop an outreach camp for promising swimmers. For his lifelong accomplishments, Ellis received a Trumpet Award, the first Diversity Award from U.S. Swimming, and the President’s Award from the International Swimming Hall of Fame, where he serves as a member of the board of directors.
Through his swim program at the Marcus Foster pool in Philadelphia, Ellis has sent a swimmer to every U.S. Olympic Trials since 1992. His former pupil, Michael Norment, was the first black swimmer on the U.S. national team.
Each of the honorary degree recipients at Commencement represents the commitment to excellence and innovative thinking that is a hallmark of Philadelphia University. Cohen and King also were recently awarded the Philadelphia University Leader of Innovation Medal for their remarkable careers and commitment to innovative leadership. Click here to read more about both individuals.
Nearly 800 undergraduate and graduate students will receive diplomas at the 2012 Commencement ceremony on May 13. For more information, go to www.philau.edu/commencement.