John Legend to Speak at Penn’s 258th Commencement

John Legend, a nine-time Grammy Award-winning soul artist, philanthropist and Penn alumnus will deliver the address at the University of Pennsylvania’s Commencement on Monday, May 19, Leslie Laird Kruhly, Vice President and University Secretary announced.

Named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009, Legend’s platinum-selling debut album in 2004, Get Lifted, propelled him onto the world stage. His celebrated career as one of the most acclaimed singer-songwriters of his generation has led to music industry awards and performances at high profile events, including at the White House.

“John Legend’s original and uplifting music is truly universal, inspiring people here at home and across the globe. As strikingly, his influence as a dedicated humanist already extends beyond his remarkable music,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said. “Through his philanthropic work in improving access to education and combating poverty, he provides us all with a striking example of the positive impact that Penn grads have in engaging with their community, beginning remarkably early in their careers. Legend has used his great talent and intellect to galvanize and inspire others not only through his acclaimed art, but also through his action-oriented humanitarian outreach, a gift to the world that makes everyone in the Penn community proud.”

Known in Penn circles by his birth name John Stephens, Legend graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1999 with a degree in English and a concentration in African-American literature and culture. As a student at Penn, he recorded his own albums, served as the president and musical director of Counterparts, the University’s coed a cappella jazz group, and directed the choir of a nearby church.

Throughout his career, Legend has drawn attention to issues of global poverty and education. He has performed numerous benefit concerts and in 2007, he launched the Show Me Campaign, an organization that works to break the cycle of poverty by providing access to quality education internationally. He is also a member of the boards of Teach for America, Stand for Children and the Harlem Village Academies. At the Commencement ceremony, Legend will receive an honorary Doctor of Music.

2014 Penn honorary-degree recipients sharing the stage with Legend are Eugenio Calabi, Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Edna Adan Ismail, Raymond G. Perelman, Olympia J. Snowe and George A. Weiss.

Eugenio Calabi, Penn’s Thomas A. Scott Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, is a visionary mathematician whose work has had profound implications well beyond his own field of complex differential geometry. In the 1950s, Calabi set forth his now famous “Calabi Conjecture” regarding the structure of certain abstract spaces. The manifolds he theorized were subsequently proven, and they unleashed new directions in differential geometry. Today, more than half a century later, his prescient work also has revolutionized theoretical physics by providing the foundation for string theory and is now viewed by many as a model of the universe. 

Calabi will be receiving an honorary Doctor of Sciences.

Johnnetta Betsch Cole is the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, which collects, conserves, exhibits and educates about the traditional and contemporary visual arts of Africa. Throughout her career as an educator and humanitarian, Cole has consistently addressed issues of diversity and inclusion in the United States and around the world. She is President Emerita of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women, and is the only person to have served as president of these two Historically Black Colleges for women in the United States. She is also Professor Emerita of Emory University from which she retired as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women's Studies and African American Studies. Cole was the first African American to serve as the Chair of the Board of United Way of America.

Cole will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Edna Adan Ismail became Somaliland and Somalia’s first qualified nurse/midwife in 1961 when she returned to her homeland after training in the United Kingdom. Her career has been dedicated to improving health conditions, reducing the rates of maternal and infant mortality and providing health care for thousands of women and children. She has served in many roles for the World Health Organization, as an educator and advisor for maternal and child health issues and as the WHO representative in the Republic of Djibouti. She personally funded the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Somaliland, which is also a teaching hospital for nurses, midwives and other health professionals. She became the first and only woman Minister in the Somaliland government when she became Minister of Social Affairs in 2002. She has also served as Somaliland’s Foreign Minister. In 2012, Ismail opened the Edna Adan University, which trains nurses, midwives, laboratory technicians, pharmacists and public health students.

Ismail will receive an honorary Doctor of Sciences.

 Raymond G. Perelman is a Philadelphia native son and the CEO of the multinational RGP Holdings, Inc., with financial, manufacturing and mineral interests. Together with his late wife Ruth, Perelman’s civic leadership translated to transformative philanthropy on behalf of educational, medical and cultural institutions throughout the city and region. The Perelmans’ record-breaking 2011 gift created a permanent endowment for Penn’s medical school, which was renamed the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine. It was the single largest gift in Penn's history, making incomparable provisions for medical research, student financial aid and for the recruitment of eminent faculty and clinician educators. The Ruth and Raymond Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, an innovative treatment and research facility, opened at Penn in 2008. In addition, each year, thousands of Philadelphians enjoy the Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Dedicated throughout his life to his alma mater, Perelman is also a proud Penn parent and grandparent.

Perelman will be receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws.

Olympia J. Snowe, a former United States Senator representing Maine, is the first woman in American history to serve in both houses of Congress and both houses of a state legislature. She served three terms in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2013 and was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years. As a senior member of the Senate’s powerful Finance, Commerce and Intelligence and Small Business committees, Snowe had a pivotal role in addressing far-reaching legislative issues, including the country’s response to the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the 2008 financial crisis and the Affordable Healthcare Act. Her election to the House at age 31 made her the youngest Republican woman and the first Greek-American woman ever elected to Congress. Currently, she is a communications and policy consultant and a Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Snowe will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws.

George A. Weiss is president of George Weiss Associates, Inc., and CEO of Weiss Multi-Strategy Advisors, LLC. A 1965 graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Weiss has served as a University Trustee since 1988. Weiss was Chair of the University’s record-breaking “Making History” fundraising campaign, which far surpassed its goals by raising $4.3 billion in support of key Penn priorities. By directing his Penn philanthropy to the highest impact goals, including student financial aid, multi-disciplinary faculty research, and life-saving medical discoveries, Weiss has had a transformational impact on his alma mater. He is the founder and chairman of the Say Yes to Education Foundation, which began in 1987 with his promise to pay the full costs of college or vocational training for 112 students at the Belmont Elementary School in Philadelphia. Today, the Say Yes program provides support services--including free tuition, tutoring, mentoring and health care--to 65,000 students in five cities. Weiss is member of the Executive Committee of the Penn Med Board and a former Vice Chair of the University Trustees and former member of Penn’s Athletics Overseers Board. He has endowed five faculty chairs in three schools at Penn. Weiss established the Wharton School’s Weiss Real Estate Center and the Weiss Center for International Financial Research and Penn’s Weiss Technology House.

Weiss will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws.


Story Photo