Trailblazing Higher Education Leader to Address Graduates at Commencement

Women in business suit

Dr. Ruth J. Simmons, the noted academic leader who Time magazine once called “America’s Best College President,” will provide the keynote address during the State University of New York at Old Westbury’s 2024 Commencement Ceremony on Wednesday, May 22, 2024 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The ceremony begins at 12 p.m.

Currently a Distinguished Presidential Fellow at Rice University and Adviser to the President of Harvard University on HBCU initiatives, Dr. Simmons will also receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the ceremony.

“Dr. Simmons is a trailblazer in higher education, and an inspiration to many in American society,” said Timothy E. Sams, president of SUNY Old Westbury. “Across her career, she has embodied many of the values inherent in SUNY Old Westbury's mission – social justice, equity, fairness, excellence and more. I'm honored that she will join us and that our graduates and their guests will have the opportunity to hear and learn from her.”

More than 1,000 graduation candidates from the Class of 2024 are eligible to take part in the ceremony to receive undergraduate and graduate degrees earned through study in the University’s schools of arts and sciences, business, education and professional studies.

Prior to her current advisory roles, Dr. Simmons served as President of Prairie View A&M University until March 2023. Before joining Prairie View, she was president of Brown University - the first African American named to lead an Ivy League institution in history. Her leadership has made indelible impacts at every stop along her path, holding administrative or faculty roles at Brown, Smith College, University of Southern California, Princeton University, and Spelman College.

A French professor before entering administration, Dr. Simmons recently chronicled her story in her New York Times bestselling memoir "Up Home." In it, she tells her account of her trajectory from Jim Crow Texas, where she was the youngest of twelve children in a sharecropping family to completing her Ph.D. at Harvard and becoming among the foremost leaders in American higher education.

She is the recipient of many honors, including a Fulbright Fellowship to France, the 2001 President's Award from the United Negro College Fund, the 2002 Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the Centennial Medal from Harvard University, and, in 2012, being named a ‘Chevalier’ of the French Legion of Honor.