Seven luminaries who have bettered our world with their ideas, passions, expertise, talent, and humanity will share their advice with the Class of 2021 during commencement ceremonies at Hard Rock Stadium next week.
One is an innovative university president who is transforming STEM education, another the former president of Mexico who lifted millions out of poverty. Two are physicians who have delivered health care and opportunity around the world. Another runs toward, not away, from disasters. Two are notable ’Canes—a media entrepreneur who has enriched South Florida, and a musician who marches to his own drummer.
These seven extraordinary individuals will share their advice with more than 3,800 graduating University of Miami students during seven commencement ceremonies over three days, May 12-14, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Home to the Miami Hurricanes football team, the outdoor venue has rigid protocols for ensuring a safe environment for the University’s first in-person commencement exercises since the global coronavirus pandemic forced the 2020 spring and fall ceremonies to go virtual.
Tickets are mobile. Entry will be touchless. Everyone must wear a mask. Guest seating is reserved and socially distanced. And attendance is limited to four guests per graduate.
But all ceremonies will be livestreamed for virtual viewing from anywhere, enabling everybody to celebrate the accomplishments of roughly 350 law students, 200 medical students, 1,200 new doctorate and master’s degree holders, and more than 2,100 baccalaureates, all who have persevered through unprecedented times to cross the Hard Rock stage.
The following information offers a short bio on each commencement speaker, along with the date, time, and schools associated with the specific ceremony.
Wednesday, May 12, at 10 a.m.: Laurie Silvers, lawyer and media entrepreneur. School of Law ceremony.
A two-time University of Miami alumna and incoming chair of its Board of Trustees, Laurie Silvers has enhanced South Florida, the ever-changing world of media, and her alma mater with her foresight, leadership, mentorship, and philanthropy.
After a decade of practicing law, she and her husband, Mitchell Rubenstein, co-founded the Syfy Channel in 1992, attracting viewers in roughly 10 million homes with cable TV on the night the channel debuted—the largest basic-cable launch since Ted Turner’s TNT channel.
Silvers eventually sold the channel, now owned by NBCUniversal, to the USA Network, but went on to build a conglomerate of radio, TV, cable, and internet. Today, she is co-CEO of Hollywood.com, the majority owner of four Florida FM radio stations and a co-founder and the majority owner of the global esports organization Misfits.
The former chair of Miami PBS station Channel 2 and co-chair of South Florida PBS, she also accomplished what others had failed to do for 20 years: She oversaw the merger of Miami and Palm Beach County’s PBS stations, creating South Florida PBS, the seventh largest PBS station in the country.
Now vice-chair and chair-elect of the University’s Board of Trustees, Silvers has served in various board capacities for more than 15 years. She and her husband are passionate supporters of the School of Law, where she earned her degree in 1977. The couple’s generosity created an endowed distinguished professorship and scholarships, including one for students committed to public service. The Laurie Silvers and Mitchell Rubenstein Hall, which houses the school’s award-winning clinics, is named in their honor.
A life trustee of the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, a member of the South Florida PBS board and national PBS Foundation Board, she has received many honors, including the Women of Tomorrow Empowerment Award, the Sun Sentinel’s 2011 Excalibur Award, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ 2015 Outstanding Philanthropist.
Wednesday, May 12, at 3 p.m.: Dr. Lincoln Chen, president emeritus of the China Medical Board. Miller School of Medicine ceremony.
From the rural villages of Asia to the halls of Harvard University, Dr. Lincoln Chen has been a tireless crusader for global health equity. With a distinguished career that has spanned more than five decades, he helped spark a revolution in child survival, tackled shortages of trained medical professionals, and crafted health care policies to promote quality health care to impoverished communities around the world.
Beyond his academic endeavors, he advised the World Health Organization and the World Bank and served as board chair of two of the world’s largest humanitarian non-governmental organizations—CARE/USA and BRAC/USA. He also was president of the Rockefeller Foundation-supported China Medical Board, where he spent 14 years building Asia’s capacity for health equity through education, research, and advocacy.
Born in China, Chen moved to the United States as a child. The valedictorian of his high school in Stony Brook, New York, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, a medical degree from Harvard Medical School, and a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
But rather than follow a traditional career path, the young doctor moved to East Pakistan to research cholera—arriving shortly before the deadliest cyclone on record claimed 500,000 lives. His relief work and the genocidal war that followed, leading to the independent nation of Bangladesh, fueled his commitment to social justice in health.
The former Taro Takemi Professor of International Health, director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, and chair of the Department of Population and International Health at Harvard, Chen has written more than 200 journal articles and many books, including “Health Professionals for a New Century,” which he co-authored with University of Miami President Julio Frenk.
Among many honors, Chen was named one of the United Nations Population Fund’s “Icons and Activists of the Last 50 Years.” And he’ll receive another recognition next week, an honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Miami.
Thursday, May 13, at 10 a.m.: Dr. Jim Yong Kim, immediate past president of the World Bank. Graduate degree ceremony for the Graduate School, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, Miller School of Medicine, and School of Nursing and Health Studies.
An infectious disease specialist, anthropologist, and educator, Dr. Jim Yong Kim has devoted his life to changing global health and development policies—and assumptions about what is possible when it comes to saving lives.
In his founding role with Partners In Health, Kim helped overturn the dogma that curing drug-resistant tuberculosis was too costly in poor countries. During his leadership at the World Health Organization, he oversaw a sixfold increase in the number of people receiving HIV treatment. As president of the World Bank, he made ending extreme poverty by 2030 a goal. As president of Dartmouth College, he helped launch the budding field of health care delivery science.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, to parents who had fled the Korean War, Kim grew up in Muscatine, Iowa, where he was the high school valedictorian, class president, and quarterback of the football team. He earned his B.A. in human biology from Brown University and his Ph.D. in anthropology and M.D. from Harvard. It was there that he and a friend, Paul Farmer, co-founded Partners In Health (PIH) on a simple principle and with a revolutionary model.
Believing that every person deserves quality health care, PIH trained the poorest people in places like Haiti to become community health workers (CHWs) who could, for example, ensure patients take lifesaving medications. Last year alone, CHWs made 800,000 home visits on four continents. Taking the PIH model to Peru in the 1990s, Kim proved the poor could be cured of drug-resistant tuberculosis, prompting a seismic shift in WHO policy.
In nominating Kim to head the World Bank in 2012, President Barack Obama noted that his experience in the world’s poorest nations and his skill at pushing big organizations to change made him the ideal person to lead the financial institution that provides loans and grants aimed at lifting people out of poverty. During Kim’s seven-year tenure, the World Bank supported the development priorities of countries at unprecedented levels, greatly increasing the bank’s impact.
The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship “genius” award, Kim has been recognized as one of America’s “25 Best Leaders” by U.S. News & World Report and one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.” Next week, he’ll receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University.
Thursday, May 13, at 3 p.m.: Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico. Graduate degree ceremony for the Graduate School, School of Architecture, the Miami Herbert Business School, the School of Communication, the School of Education and Human Development, and the Frost School of Music.
The son of a prosperous landowner, Vicente Fox grew up on his family ranch in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, playing with the children of farmers who toiled on communal land—experiences that made him appreciate the difficulties poor people face every day.
Decades later, when Fox won the presidency of his beloved homeland on the National Action Party (PAN) ticket—ending the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) seven-decade lock on power—he set out to improve the economy, combat poverty, promote equity, and create more opportunities for millions of Mexicans.
During his six-year term, he grew the economy and introduced programs that substantially reduced Mexico’s poverty rate. Under his leadership, his minister of health, Julio Frenk, now the University of Miami’s sixth president, implemented Seguro Popular, which helped millions of previously uninsured Mexicans access health care. Another program, Oportunidades, provided conditional cash disbursements to mothers who focused on improving their children’s health, nutrition, and education.
Initially, Fox was a successful businessman with no political ambition. In nine years, he rose from route supervisor to the president of Coca-Cola in Mexico. But after returning to his family business in Guanajuato, where he saw how government frustrated small businesses, he joined the PAN. And six years after winning a seat in Mexico’s Congress, he was elected governor of Guanajuato. Under Fox’s leadership, his home state became a model of efficiency, transparency, and prosperity—and a springboard for his successful 2000 presidential election.
His party’s minority status and a divided congress thwarted some of his plans, but Fox’s commitment to easing the lives of the poor remained steadfast. Seguro Popular not only provided free health care to millions but improved educational performance and economic growth. And Oportunidades was so successful in ensuring children remained in school and underwent regular health checks, 30 other countries adopted it.
Today, Fox continues to encourage leadership and opportunities for the less privileged. The recipient of many awards and honors—which will include an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University next week—he is co-president of the Centrist Democrat International and founder of the Vicente Fox Center of Studies, Library and Museum, established on the ranch his grandfather bought a century ago.
Friday, May 14, at 8:30 a.m.: Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Undergraduate degree ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences.
A descendent of slaves and slave owners, Freeman A. Hrabowski, III was 12 when he joined Martin Luther King Jr.’s Children’s Crusade of 1963, the peaceful protests aimed at ending the notorious segregation practices in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.
The protests were not peaceful. Instead, police sprayed the children with powerful water hoses, hit them with batons, and threw them in jail—where Hrabowski spent five days praying and comforting younger children. But as frightening as the experience was, it made Hrabowski realize he had the opportunity to impact his own future.
Since then, Hrawbowski, who has led the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) for nearly 30 years, has devoted his energies to doing the same for others, particularly minorities pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). Since arriving at UMBC as provost in 1987, Hrabowski has transformed the regional institution into a national innovation powerhouse for research and teaching and into one of the top producers of black undergraduates who go on to earn doctorates in the natural sciences and engineering.
Fortunately for him and all students who dream of brighter futures, he was emboldened by his chilling boyhood experiences during the Children’s Crusade. Skipping two grades and graduating high school at 15, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the Hampton Institute in Virginia. He attained his master’s degree in math and his doctorate in higher education administration and statistics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. It was there, as the only Black student in most of his classes, he found his life’s calling. Serving as an assistant professor and assistant dean for student services, he began documenting the struggles that Black students faced in mathematics and science instruction and opened a tutoring center for minorities.
Devoting his research to reversing underrepresentation of Black students on college campuses and in STEM-related fields, he co-founded UMBC’s groundbreaking Meyerhoff Scholars Program, considered the model for preparing minority students for research careers in science and engineering.
Among many honors, he is the recipient of the American Council on Education’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Next week, Hrabowski, who will speak virtually from Baltimore, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University.
Friday, May 14, at 1 p.m.: Ben Folds, musician, producer, composer, and arts advocate. Undergraduate degree ceremony for the School of Architecture, the School of Communication, the School of Education and Human Development, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, the Frost School of Music, and the School of Nursing and Health Studies.
As a child growing up in North Carolina, Ben Folds moved often and had an off-beat relationship with school. But music was a constant in his life. By age 2, he was listening to 1960s stars for hours every day.
His own prodigious talent soon captured the attention of teachers who inspired his musical development—support that helped him, he says, find “the rhythm in my soul.” That rhythm earned him a University of Miami scholarship to study percussion, but the gig was short—just one semester. The country boy with the Southern accent and the $27 plywood drum set he had saved for all summer never felt at home in the metropolis.
Then, on the night before his recital test, he broke his hand in a scuffle. The next morning, he failed the test, tossed his drums into Lake Osceola, and left college. The spontaneous move imprinted Fold’s identity as a musician who, yes, follows the beat of his own drum. And it has taken him far. His originality—coupled with his iconic talent—has made Folds one of the major music influencers of our generation.
His impressive body of genre-bending music includes pop albums with the Ben Folds Five, multiple solo albums, and numerous collaborative records. His last album, a blend of pop songs and his “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra,” soared to No. 1 on both the Billboard classical and classical crossover charts. He has performed with some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras and currently serves as the first artistic advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center.
An outspoken champion for funding arts education in public schools and music therapy, he is a member of the distinguished Artist Committee of Americans for the Arts (AFTA) and has testified before Congress. He also serves on the board of AFTA’s Arts Action Fund—which helps arts advocates engage in politics and public policy.
As the pandemic spread across the world, Folds was on tour in Australia, where he remains and where he recorded his commencement address—and where he will receive his University of Miami degree, an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Friday, May 14, at 5:30 p.m.: Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross. Undergraduate degree ceremony for the Miami Herbert Business School and College of Engineering.
Few people would agree to lead an organization that requires a response to disasters big and small every eight minutes. But for the past 13 years, Gail McGovern has thrived in that capacity.
As the president and CEO of the American Red Cross, she oversees an emergency relief and blood services organization that annually responds to more than 60,000 disasters—from house fires and hurricanes to earthquakes and floods. Yet, when she took the reins of the Red Cross in 2008, the nonprofit organization was experiencing a crisis of its own. With a $209 million operating deficit, a debt of more than $600 million, an unwieldy structure, and difficulties within its blood services, the relief agency was headed to the brink of collapse.
But McGovern—who prior to joining the Red Cross held senior leadership roles at AT&T and Fidelity Personal Investments—enlisted 50 of the organization’s chapter executives to help her develop a plan that put it back on firm financial footing, ramped up its fundraising, and refreshed its branding.
As a result, she consolidated the independent payroll systems, financial audits, websites, and IT departments of the organization’s 720 chapters. She also modernized information technology systems and expanded the Red Cross’ reach through social media and new mobile technologies, including a series of free apps that put lifesaving skills at people’s fingertips during emergencies.
Among the first 50 women accepted at the once all-male Johns Hopkins University in 1971, she majored in quantitative sciences and landed her first professional job as a programmer at Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania, part of AT&T. One of the first women in the company to write code, she quickly moved up the technical ranks, earning an M.B.A. from Columbia University while working full time.
Both universities have since honored her as alumna of the year, among the many honors she has received. Before she joined the Red Cross to help people in their darkest hours, Forbes recognized her as one of the top 50 most powerful women in corporate America. Now, the University of Miami is awarding McGovern an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.