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Colin Powell to deliver Northeastern University’s 2012 commencement address

Courtesy photo.

Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will deliver Northeastern University’s 110th commencement address on May 4, 2012. Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University, broke the news on Twitter last night.

The retired four-star general will receive an honorary doctorate during the morning ceremony, which will include 20,000 undergraduate students, family members, friends and university leaders.

“Any single chapter in Colin Powell’s life would be considered a distinguished career in public service,” President Aoun said. “But taken as a whole, General Powell’s life — as a military leader, diplomat and author — is an extraordinary record of leadership, commitment and service. It will inspire each and every one of our graduates. We are honored to welcome General Powell to the Northeastern family.”

Following his more than 40-year career in public service — including, most notably, his tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state — Powell has emerged today as a post-partisan leader who speaks out frequently on issues of domestic and foreign policy. His forthcoming book, “It Worked for Me,” will be published in May.

“I’ve spent much of my career fighting for ideals such as freedom, social mobility and global cooperation,” Powell said. “Today, fulfilling these aspirations requires the contributions of globally-focused universities — often through the work of their graduates. I am honored to be part of this commencement and to help launch Northeastern’s newest graduates into a world that needs their considerable energy and talents.”

Powell has helped found the Colin L. Powell Center for Leadership and Service at the City College of New York, and also serves as the founder and chairman emeritus of the America’s Promise Alliance, a cross-sector partnership of corporations, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and advocacy groups committed to improving the lives of children nationally.

“The name Colin Powell is synonymous with achievement on a global scale,” said Sy Sternberg, chairman of the Northeastern Board of Trustees. “This is precisely what’s happening today at Northeastern through co-op and our other signature programs. General Powell is the ideal person to inspire our graduates — and the whole Northeastern community — at this year’s commencement.”

The son of immigrants from Jamaica, Powell was born in Harlem, N.Y., and raised in the South Bronx. He earned a bachelor’s degree from City College of New York and then embarked on a rapid rise through the military ranks. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam in the 1960s, during which he was awarded both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He has received numerous military and civilian decorations, including two Presidential Medals of Freedom.

In the 1970s, Powell served the Carter administration as an assistant to the deputy secretary of defense. In the 1980s, he was appointed national security advisor under President Ronald Reagan, and later became chairman of the Joint Chiefs for President George H. W. Bush. He continued to serve in this role during the Clinton administration, until his retirement from the military in 1993.

In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Powell to be secretary of state, earning him, at the time, the distinction of the highest post ever held by an African American in the United States government.

Powell follows Henri A. Termeer, former chief executive officer and chairman of Genzyme Corporation, who delivered the university’s 2011 commencement speech. In 2010, Northeastern hosted speaker Kenneth I. Chenault, chairman and chief executive officer of American Express Company, and in 2009, philanthropist and international business leader Kenneth Cole delivered the commencement address.

Prior Northeastern commencement speakers have included John F. Kennedy, Mikhail Gorbachev, Stephen Breyer, Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright.