John Legend to Speak at Penn’s 258th Commencement

Journal Staff Report | 3/13/2014, noon
John Legend, a nine-time Grammy Award-winning soul artist, philanthropist and Penn alumnus will deliver the address at the University of ...
John Legend

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.