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Merrimack College Commencement

Honorary Degree Recipient

Graduate Ceremony

Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar (keynote speaker)
Doctor of Public Affairs 


A veteran of the Air Force, Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar was commissioned through ROTC at the University of Texas and began service fighting fires and spotting for marijuana eradication missions in California. Deployed in Afghanistan for combat search-and-rescue and medical evacuation missions, she flew into an ambush and was shot down on her third tour of duty, in July 2009. She engaged Taliban forces in a firefight, sustained wounds and was awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with a Valor device. She later joined a lawsuit against the Department of Defense for barring women from combat roles; that policy was lifted shortly afterward. Hegar earned an M.B.A. and teaches at the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business. Hegar’s memoir, “Shoot Like a Girl: One Woman’s Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front,” was published by Berkley Books in March.

Honorary Degree Citation

Warrior. Change agent. Leader.
Now retired from the U.S. Air Force, you still — in everything you do — embody its mission to “aim high.” Your bravery is unquestionable. You were told military service is “not for girls”; you enlisted anyway. You faced down entrenched sexism in the ranks. You served three tours in Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot, flying into the teeth of danger to rescue wounded warriors. In 2009, a helicopter you were co-piloting was shot down. On the ground, despite your injuries, you protected your crew and the patients you were carrying from the enemy. Following this mission, you were awarded a Purple Heart, and you became the second woman in U.S. history to receive a Distinguished Flying Cross for valor. When you helped to challenge the pentagon’s ban on putting women in combat, your courage was once again on full display. Less than a year later, the defense secretary lifted that ban. Today, as an executive coach, consultant, author and guest professor at the University of Texas, you tell — and, more important, you show — others how to be true leaders: through courage, honesty, a commitment to serving others and an abiding respect for equity in every form. By virtue of the authority vested in me by the board of trustees of Merrimack College and the commonwealth of Massachusetts, I hereby bestow upon you the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Affairs, with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities appertaining thereunto.