Indiana University Northwest will honor 806 graduating students and honorary degree recipient and Chesterton native, Harry Mark Petrakis, during its Commencement exercises at the Genesis Center in Gary on Thurs., May 11 at 6 p.m. This marks the fourth year for the IU Northwest Commencement ceremony at Gary's Genesis Center.
IU Northwest Chancellor Bruce W. Bergland will preside over the ceremony along with IU President Adam W. Herbert to confer degrees. Degree recipients include December 2005 graduates and candidates for May and August 2006. This number also includes graduate students whose degrees have been or will be awarded during the 2005-06 academic year.
This year, IU Northwest honors Petrakis with a Doctor of Humane Letters for being a role model who has contributed to cultural diversity through his fiction. Many of his stories focus on the experiences of Greek immigrants and Greek Americans in blue-collar industrial regions, a subject that resonates well with the many working-class descendents of eastern and southern Europeans who populate northwest Indiana.
Petrakis has worked as a laborer, real estate agent, speech writer, steelworker, and salesman and is now known all over the world by one vocation; an award-winning author. The 82-year-old resident of Chesterton, Ind., has written 18 novels and was twice a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction. He has honorary degrees from the University of Illinois, Roosevelt University, Hellenic College, and Governors State University. His most recent honorary degree was from the American College of Greece in Athens in the summer of 2004 where he delivered the Commencement address. The New York Times has called him “one of our finest writers.” His novels include A Dream of Kings, which he adapted to a screenplay for a major motion picture starring Anthony Quinn.
“Harry Petrakis has visibly contributed to the development of understanding about Greek American society and serves as a model for present and future generations,” says Patricia Lundberg, executive director for the Center for Regional Excellence at IU Northwest. “His creative work and many awards and achievements have been earned in a framework of high personal integrity and concern for the public good that would make his father—a Greek Orthodox priest—very proud.”
His work reflects values that Indiana University Northwest is striving to embody,” says Bruce Bergland, chancellor of IU Northwest.
Petrakis became entranced with books when he was bedridden with tuberculosis as a child. He soon started writing poetry, and though he thought he was “not very good,” he continued writing as a means of expression. He soon switched to writing short stories, which he submitted to publishers for ten years before one was accepted. His first published story, Pericles on 31st Street, appeared in The Atlantic Monthly when he was 32. Petrakis settled in Indiana in 1968 and continues to draw inspiration for many of his characters and settings from the area.