Vice President Biden to Speak at Penn’s 257th Commencement

Joseph R. Biden, Jr., vice president of the United States, will deliver the address at the University of Pennsylvania’s commencement on Monday, May 13, 2013.

Biden began his more than 40 years in public service as a county council member in Delaware, then spent more than three decades as a U.S. senator, where he served until becoming vice president in 2009.

“In his career-long work in government, his consummate dedication to public service and his finely-honed capacity to craft landmark bipartisan legislation, Joe Biden has improved the lives of countless fellow Americans and people around the world,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said.  “From shaping U.S. foreign policy to creating laws that protect civil liberties and prevent crime, Joe Biden has earned enormous respect and admiration at home and abroad as a major force for making our nation a better country.  He is the perfect choice to address the 257th class of Penn graduates as we prepare to launch our wonderful students into the world.”

Biden advises President Obama on national and international issues and, as vice president, has fought to raise the living standards of middle-class Americans across the country, played a lead role in ending the war in Iraq responsibly, led a task force to develop a comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence and worked with Congress to help avert the “fiscal cliff” in 2012.

Other honorary-degree recipients will be Kwame Anthony Appiah, Michelle Bachelet, Ursula M. Burns, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Samuel H. Preston, Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Lonnie G. Thompson and James Edward West. “We are thrilled to welcome Vice President Biden and all of our honorees to campus on May 13,” said Andrea Mitchell, Penn trustee and chair of the Trustee Honorary Degrees Committee. “They represent the highest level of achievement in diverse disciplines, having excelled in leadership and public service, scholarship, business and innovation. I know their life stories will inspire our graduates and their families and friends, as well as those of us in the wider University community.”

Joseph R. Biden, Jr., 47th vice president of the United States is a former U.S. senator who chaired or was a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for 17 years. He’s widely recognized for his work on criminal-justice legislation, including his part in drafting the landmark 1994 Crime Bill and authoring the Violence Against Women Act. As the chairman or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden also played a pivotal role in shaping U.S. foreign policy, working on legislation related to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, post-Cold War Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Biden will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws.

Kwame Anthony Appiah is a Princeton University professor, a widely published philosopher and cultural theorist whose work on race, identity, politics and moral philosophy has helped change our understanding of human behavior. His wide-ranging writings, which have been translated into more than 10 languages, include Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers; The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen; In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture; Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race (with Amy Gutmann), and the Dictionary of Global Culture (co-edited with Henry Louis Gates Jr.).

Appiah will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Ursula Burns is chairman and chief executive officer of Xerox Corporation and is the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 corporation. Having risen steadily through the company’s ranks since joining as an intern in 1980, Burns played significant roles in corporate strategic services and product development and planning before being named president in 2007, CEO in 2009 and chairman in 2010. Over the course of three decades, Burns has successfully striven to maintain the company’s relevance in the constantly changing business environment. She helped drive the company’s evolution from a photocopying leader in the 1980s to a pacesetter in digital-document technologies in the 2000s, and in 2009 she spearheaded its transformation into a business-services provider by acquiring Affiliated Computer Services, the largest acquisition in Xerox history. She now leads 140,000 people serving clients in more than 160 countries.

Burns will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws. 

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is Nigeria’s coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance and a renowned development economist and economic reformer. Okonjo-Iweala is responsible for managing the finances of Africa’s most populous nation and one of the world’s fastest growing economies. She’s a former managing director of the World Bank where she had oversight responsibility for the bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. She also spearheaded initiatives to assist low-income countries during the food crisis and later the financial crisis, and she chaired the raising of $49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the world’s poorest nations.

 Okonjo-Iweala will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws.

Samuel H. Preston, a Penn professor of sociology, is one of the world’s foremost demographers. He is responsible for the “Preston curve,” which is widely used to identify factors responsible for gains in life expectancy. He has also produced seminal work on divorce rates, urban growth, tobacco’s toll on U.S. mortality and the population of African-Americans that have influenced the formulation of public policy in this country and internationally. The author of 16 books and more than 100 scholarly articles and book chapters, Preston advises the U.S. government on the reform of the Social Security Administration and the conduct of the U.S. Census, is a frequent advisor on population matters at the United Nations and is a past president of the Population Association of America. He has numerous University leadership roles, including dean of the School of Arts and Sciences from 1998 to 2004, departmental chair, director of the Population Studies Center and director of the Population Aging Research Center.

 Preston will receive an honorary Doctor of Sciences.

Ellen Mosley-Thompson and Lonnie G. Thompson are preeminent experts on ice core analysis who have shed new light on our planet’s past and its future. They have used ice cores collected from glaciers on six continents during more than 40 years to reconstruct a detailed history of Earth’s climate changes during several millennia and thereby advanced our understanding of global-scale climatic patterns including tropical monsoons and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Mosley-Thompson and Thompson were among the first scientists to record and publicize the widespread melting of high mountain glaciers. Their data are considered to be among the most convincing evidence that Earth’s increasing temperatures result largely from human activity. Mosley-Thompson is a Distinguished University Professor of Geography at The Ohio State University and director of the Byrd Polar Research Center. Thompson, an expert on tropical and subtropical ice caps and glaciers, has led more than 50 research expeditions. He is a University Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences at Ohio State and a senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center.

 Thompson and Mosley-Thompson will each receive an honorary Doctor of Sciences.

• James Edward West is a path-breaking electrical engineer whose co-invention of the electret microphone revolutionized the telephone and recording industries in the 20th century. It remains the dominant technology for the microphones of today. West developed the tiny, permanently charged, electret microphone in the 1960s with Gerhard Sessler, his collaborator at Bell Laboratories. The technology is still used in 90 percent of the billions of microphones produced for products such as cellular telephones, hearing aids, baby monitors, video recorders and professional recording equipment. The holder of more than 50 United States patents and more than 200 foreign patents, West has authored more than 150 scientific papers on acoustics, solid-state physics and material science.

West will receive an honorary Doctor of Sciences.

NOTE: Due to heightened security at Penn’s Commencement ceremony, the gates to Franklin Field will open at 7 a.m., and it is recommended that attendees plan on arriving as early as possible. Every guest will be required to go through airport-style magnetometers, and certain items will be prohibited from Franklin Field, including but not limited to oversized bags, bottles, tripods and umbrellas.

Additional information about commencement is available at

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