Kenneth Cole to speak at Northeastern commencement

Northeastern University has announced that social activist and international business leader Kenneth Cole will deliver the keynote address during this year’s commencement ceremony. Cole, chairman and chief creative officer of Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc., has been a worldwide champion of social causes such as AIDS research, volunteerism and the issues of homelessness.

Cole will address 2,700 undergraduates and their families on Friday, May 1, 2009 at 10:30 a.m. at the TD Banknorth Garden. Dr. Gary Gottlieb, president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, will speak at the afternoon exercises primarily for graduate students at Northeastern’s Matthews Arena. Each will receive honorary degrees.

“Today’s graduates will need to be innovative and entrepreneurial to navigate the complex world they will face after graduation. They will also need to understand the value of giving back to their community,” said Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun. “Kenneth Cole is an excellent example of a business leader and social entrepreneur who has been successful on the world stage. The story of this businessman and humanitarian will be a wonderful inspiration for Northeastern’s commencement.”

From the beginning of his accomplished career, Cole has gone beyond the fashion arena and championed social activism and entrepreneurship. He is currently chairman of the board of amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, for which he designs and donates most of their annual creative advertising. Each year on World AIDS Day, Cole donates a generous portion of his company’s retail sales to amfAR.

In 2008, the 25th anniversary of Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc., he launched the AWEARNESS fund, a not-for-profit initiative that encourages, empowers and supports acts of service, volunteerism and social change.

“I am honored to be receiving an honorary degree from a prestigious institution that has prepared a new breed of graduates for all that lies ahead,” said Cole. “I believe that ‘what one stands for is more important than what one stands in.’”

In addition to his commitment to amfAR and the fight against AIDS, Cole is a founding board member to the homeless advocacy organization HELP USA, the nation’s largest provider of homes, jobs and services for the homeless, which is chaired by his wife, Maria Cuomo Cole.

Cole, whose family was in the shoe business, founded Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc. in 1982 and started by selling his shoes out of a 40-foot trailer truck parked on the streets of New York City. Today, it is a billion-dollar company with more than 175 stores worldwide that is known not only for shoes, but for clothing and accessories.

In addition to Cole, Molly Corbett Broad, the first woman president of the American Council on Education, and Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, will receive honorary degrees at the morning ceremony. A former president of the University of North Carolina, Broad is a national expert on higher education policy and a passionate advocate for improving access and affordability in higher education. During his 21-year tenure as president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Shrage has spearheaded a series of innovative educational programs in greater Boston that have become national models.

In addition to Gottlieb, J. Keith Motley, chancellor of UMass Boston, and Angela Menino, first lady of Boston, will receive honorary degrees during the afternoon ceremony. Motley, a two-time Northeastern alumnus, has spent more than 25 years in higher education developing initiatives and programs to empower young people through education. Menino, a lifelong Boston resident, has provided leadership and guidance to organizations that assist families in need in Boston and beyond.