NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Rutgers University has chosen multitalented educators and entertainers as commencement speakers for its May ceremonies in New Brunswick/Piscataway, Newark and Camden, N.J.
William S. “Bill” Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, but best known as television’s “Bill Nye, The Science Guy,” will speak Sunday, May 17 (12:30 p.m.) at Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s commencement at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway.
Earl Lewis, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a highly regarded historian and author and co-editor of seven books, as well as the 11-volume The Young Oxford History of African Americans, will address graduates Monday, May 18 (9 a.m.), at Rutgers University-Newark’s ceremony at the Prudential Center.
Bryan A. Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, who is recognized for representing capital defendants and death row prisoners in the Deep South, and a professor of clinical law at the New York University School of Law, will deliver remarks Thursday, May 21 (9 a.m.) during the Rutgers University-Camden convocation and graduate student commencement at the Susquehanna Bank Center. Famed musician and native New Jerseyan Jon Bon Jovi – widely known for his roles as singer, songwriter, actor and philanthropist – will also deliver remarks.
The four also will receive honorary degrees: Nye, a Doctor of Science; Lewis, a Doctor of Humane Letters; Stevenson, a Doctor of Laws; and Bon Jovi, a Doctor of Letters. Additionally, Rutgers will award an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in New Brunswick to Frances Fox Piven, distinguished professor of political science and sociology, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
Nye is a scientist, engineer, comedian, author and inventor, and a man with a mission: to help foster a scientifically literate society. Upon graduating from Cornell (where he later taught) with a degree in mechanical engineering, he went to work at Boeing in Seattle, and eventually developed a hydraulic resonance suppressor that is still used in Boeing 747 aircraft. There, he won a Steve Martin look-alike contest and became a stand-up comic and comedy writer, eventually leaving Boeing.In Seattle, “Bill Nye, The Science Guy,” came to TV, and from 1993 to 1998, Nye won seven Emmy Awards for writing, performing and producing. The show won 18 Emmys in five years. An accomplished author, he has written children’s and general audience books about science, including evolution, and on energy and climate change.
Nye’s current day job is as CEO of the Planetary Society, the world’s largest nongovernmental space interest organization. The society was founded by Nye’s astronomy professor at Cornell, Carl Sagan, among others. Nye and fellow members of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry promote scientific inquiry, critical investigation and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.
Lewis, who holds master and doctoral degrees from the University of Minnesota, is a renowned historian and one of the nation’s leading scholars of African American studies. The son of a school teacher in the Jim Crow South, he overcame pervasive disadvantages of being educated in segregated elementary and middle schools. A member of the cohort that integrated his high school in Chesapeake, Va., he earned a National Merit Scholarship for Minority Students and attended Concordia (Minn.) College, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and psychology.
Well known for his leadership in higher education at the national level, Lewis is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and serves on the boards of directors of the Educational Testing Service and the National Academies Board of Higher Education Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs Committee. He has also served on the boards of the American Council of Learned Societies, the Center for Research Libraries and on many higher education task forces. He was a member of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.
During his academic career, Lewis has held faculty appointments at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan and Emory University. At Michigan, he ultimately served as vice provost for academic affairs/graduate studies and dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. At Emory, he became provost and the executive vice president for academic affairs.
As president of The Mellon Foundation, Lewis oversees one of the world’s largest foundations, with more than $6 billion in assets. The foundation makes grants in five primary areas: higher education and scholarship in the humanities; scholarly communications; diversity; arts and cultural heritage; international and higher education and strategic projects.
Stevenson is a 1985 graduate of Harvard University, with both a master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government and a Doctor of Laws from Harvard Law School. Since 1989, he has been executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a private, nonprofit law organization he founded that focuses on social justice and human rights in the context of criminal justice reform in the U.S. EJI litigates on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, people wrongly convicted or charged, poor people denied effective representation and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct.
Stevenson’s work has won him national acclaim. In 1995, he was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. He is also a 1989 recipient of the Reebock Human Rights Award, the 1991 American Civil Liberties Union National Medal of Liberty, and in 1996, he was named the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year by the National Association of Public Interest Lawyers. In 2000, Stevenson received the Olof Palme Prize in Stockholm, for international human rights, and in 2004, he received the Award for Courageous Advocacy from the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Lawyer for the People Award from the National Lawyers Guild.In 2006, NYU presented Stevenson with its Distinguished Teaching Award. He has served as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School. He has published several widely disseminated manuals on capital litigation and has written extensively on criminal justice, capital punishment and civil rights issues. He is also the author of The New York Times best-seller and multiaward-winning Just Mercy, A Story of Justice and Redemption.
Jon Bon Jovi is the founder and frontman of one of the world’s best-selling musical acts, Bon Jovi, which has sold more than 130 million albums worldwide. The band’s last two consecutive world tours became the top-grossing tour in the world on each respective outing. As an actor, he has appeared in numerous feature films and television series and as a songwriter, he is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame who earned a Golden Globe for Best Original Song (1991) and a nomination for Best Original Song in 2012.
Frequently using his spotlight for good throughout his career, Bon Jovi’s charitable efforts have always focused on helping those who help themselves. As these efforts grew to focus on affordable housing and hunger, he formally launched the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation (2006), which combats the issues that force families and individuals into economic despair. Through the funding and creation of programs and partnerships, the foundation supports innovative community efforts to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.
In 2011, Bon Jovi opened the JBJ Soul Kitchen, a community restaurant in Red Bank, N.J., where patrons either pay a minimum donation or volunteer in exchange for their meals. In February 2015, the foundation provided financial backing for a second community restaurant, Spoon Full of Hope, in Superstorm Sandy-ravaged Union Beach, N.J.
Piven is an expert in the development of the welfare state, political movements, urban politics, voting and electoral politics. She has been politically engaged with improving the lives of America’s poor since the 1960s. She has taught at universities in the U.S. and Europe, and among her many books are the best-selling Regulating the Poor (1971); Poor People’s Movements (1977); Why Americans Don’t Vote (1989); Why Americans Still Don’t Vote: And Why Politicians Want It That Way (2000), co-authored with Richard A. Cloward; and Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America (2006).Piven, who holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago, has received broad public recognition and numerous academic and community service awards for her work. As a co-founder of HumanSERVE, her work on voter registration reform prompted the passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (known as the “motor voter” law). She is a past president of the American Sociological Association (2007), and the Society for the Study of Social Problems (1980), has served on the national board of the ACLU and was a founding board chair of The New Press.