April 25, 2019

To the William Paterson community:

I am pleased to announce that Jonathan Alter, an award-winning author, political analyst, documentary filmmaker, columnist, television producer, and radio host, will deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree at the Undergraduate Commencement ceremony on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 at the Prudential Center in Newark.

Mr. Alter is the author of three New York Times bestsellers: The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies (2013), The Promise: President Obama, Year One (2010) and The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope (2006), also one of the Times’ Notable Books of the year. Since 1996, he has been a contributing correspondent and political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC. A specialist in the American presidency, Mr. Alter has interviewed seven U.S. presidents as well as many other heads of state.

After 28 years as a columnist and senior editor at Newsweek, where he wrote more than 50 cover stories, Mr. Alter is now a columnist for the Daily Beast and the co-host, with his wife, Emily Lazar, and their three children, Charlotte Alter, Tommy Alter, and Molly Alter, of “Alter Family Politics,” which airs Thursdays at 10:00 a.m. on RadioAndy on SiriusXM 102. In 2019, he co-produced and co-directed the HBO documentary, Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists.

 Mr. Alter has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Monthly, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The New Republic, Esquire, Bloomberg View, and other publications. His other books include Between the Lines: A View Inside American Politics, Media, and Culture, a collection of 20 years of his Newsweek columns, and Inside the System, a collection of Washington Monthly articles for which he was coeditor.

 His many awards include first prize from the National Headliner Awards for Special Column on One Subject for a series of columns on life after 9/11, the John Bartlow Martin Award for his reporting on the death penalty, and the Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business Reporting. He was also part of the teams of Newsweek reporters and editors awarded the prestigious National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 1993, 2002, and 2004. During the 2013-14 season, he served as an executive producer of Alpha House, a 21-episode, half-hour political comedy available on Amazon. He is currently at work on a full-length biography of former President Jimmy Carter. A native of Chicago, Mr. Alter received a bachelor’s degree in history with honors from Harvard University. He is a resident of Montclair.

 In addition, we will present the President’s Medal to Fred Gruel, the immediate past chair of the William Paterson University Board of Trustees. Fred joined the William Paterson Board of Trustees in 1992. He twice served as chairperson, from 2012 to 2018 and from 1996 to 2000, and as vice chair from 2000 to 2004. He has also chaired several Board committees including the Finance and Audit and Institutional Development Committees. Fred also served as a director of the William Paterson University Foundation and in 2009 received the William Paterson University Foundation’s Legacy Award.

 In 2017, Fred and his wife Susan made a generous donation to William Paterson University to establish the Frederick and Susan Gruel Endowed Scholarship Fund. The scholarship will support a full-time first-generation student at the University who demonstrates academic excellence and financial need.

Fred retired in 2013 as president and chief executive officer of the AAA New Jersey Automobile Club and its subsidiaries, the AAA New Jersey Insurance Agency and the AAA New Jersey Car Care Center, after more than three decades with the company. He began his AAA career in 1980 and assumed various positions with increasing responsibilities. Appointed to AAA’s board of trustees in 1985, he was named president and chief executive officer in 1993. Under his leadership, the organization thrived, experiencing significant growth in membership, staff, and revenue, as well as innovative product and service offerings.

Taking AAA’s century-old advocacy tradition to heart, Fred has been a strong supporter of travelers’ rights, as well as the safety of drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. Through his leadership, key legislative initiatives have been passed, including graduated driver’s licensing, occupant protection, child passenger safety, auto insurance reform, and transportation funding. 

Prior to AAA, Fred held several positions in higher education, including vice president of administration and finance at Thomas A. Edison State College, assistant director of the Office of Community College Programs for the State of New Jersey’s Department of Higher Education, and the Board of Higher Education, City University of New York.

Fred has served as chairman of the New Jersey Council of AAA Clubs; member and past chairman of the national AAA Public Affairs Committee; member of the prestigious AAA Public Affairs Committee; director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety; director of the American Commerce Insurance Company; chair of the Newark Regional Business Partnership; director and past chairman of the Employers Association of New Jersey; chair and director of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce; chair and trustee of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities; director of the New Jersey State Safety Council; director of the Jersey Battered Women’s Shelter; and member and past chairman of the Boy Scouts of America Patriots Path Council Hospitality and Travel Good Scout Award committee.

We look forward to Mr. Alter’s comments to our graduates, and to honoring both of these accomplished individuals at our 2019 commencement ceremony.


Richard J. Helldobler, PhD