Northeastern announces 2014 honorary degree recipients

At its 112th commencement exercises, Northeastern University will present honorary degrees to an accomplished group of influential leaders and scholars.

The recipients of honorary degrees at commencement are: Janet Napolitano, the former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security who is now president of the University of California; LL COOL J, an award-winning entertainment icon who currently stars in the CBS primetime drama series NCIS: Los Angeles; former NFL player Wade Davis II, who is currently the executive director of the You Can Play Project—an organization dedicated to ending discrimination, sexism, and homophobia in sports; Victor J. Dzau, the president and CEO of Duke University Health System and incoming president of the Institute of Medicine; and Donald G. Comb, founder and chairman of the board of New England Biolabs and founder of the Ocean Genome Legacy.

“We are delighted to welcome these inspiring, innovative leaders to the Northeastern family,” said President Joseph E. Aoun. “From public service to science, human rights to the arts, this year’s honorary degree recipients demonstrate how individuals can profoundly impact society for the better. They are impressive role models for our graduating students, and for the world.”

Northeastern announced in March that Napolitano would be the commencement speaker at the undergraduate ceremony. She will deliver the 112th commencement address to some 20,000 undergraduates, family, friends, and university leaders at TD Garden in Boston on May 2, 2014. Napolitano, LL COOL J, and Wade Davis II will receive their honorary degrees at the undergraduate ceremony.

Dzau will deliver the commencement address at Northeastern’s graduate ceremony at Matthews Arena that same afternoon, when he and Comb will receive their honorary degrees.


Janet Napolitano
Undergraduate commencement speaker
Honorary degree: Doctor of Public Service


Janet Napolitano is the 20th president of the University of California, having taken office in September 2013. She leads a university system with 10 campuses, five medical centers, three affiliated national laboratories, and a statewide agriculture and natural resources program. The UC system has more than 234,000 students, about 208,000 faculty and staff, more than 1.6 million living alumni and an annual operating budget of more than $24 billion.

Napolitano is a distinguished public servant with a record of leading large, complex organizations at the federal and state levels. She served as Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009-13, as governor of Arizona from 2003-09, as attorney general of Arizona from 1998-2003, and as U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona from 1993-97. She began her career in 1983 as a clerk for Judge Mary M. Schroeder of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and practiced at the law firm of Lewis & Roca in Phoenix, where she became a partner in 1989.

As the nation’s third Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano headed a department comprised of 22 agencies and directorates and whose missions include counterterrorism, border security, immigration, cybersecurity, and disaster response and recovery. The department supports 12 Centers of Excellence through a consortium of hundreds of universities generating ideas for new security technologies.

As governor of Arizona, Napolitano focused on education, from pre-kindergarten through public higher education. She was the first woman to chair the National Governors Association and was named one of the nation’s top five governors by Time magazine. Forbes magazine recently named her as one of the 10 most powerful women in the world.

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Napolitano was awarded the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service by the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian Institution in 2006. In 2012, she received the Anti-Defamation League’s William and Naomi Gorowitz Institute Service Award, which is given for outstanding achievements in combating terrorism, extremism, and injustice.

A New York City native, Napolitano grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Albuquerque, N.M., where her father was dean of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She earned a bachelor of arts (summa cum laude in Political Science) in 1979 from Santa Clara University, where she was Phi Beta Kappa, a Truman Scholar, and the university’s first female valedictorian. She received her juris doctor in 1983 from the University of Virginia School of Law. Napolitano holds honorary degrees from several universities and colleges, including Santa Clara University, Emory University, and Pomona College. In 2010, she was awarded the prestigious Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal (Law), the University of Virginia’s highest external honor.

Honorary Degree: Doctor of Arts


LL COOL J is an entertainment icon who has found great success crossing into multiple mediums. He is a two-time Grammy Award winner, recording artist, actor, author, NAACP Image Award winner, entrepreneur, and philanthropist.

LL—whose real name is James Todd Smith—began in the nascent, burgeoning rap and hip-hop scene of the 1980s, which developed into the musical and cultural phenomenon that is today’s hip-hop. More than 25 years since he first burst onto the scene, LL continues his vibrant, trailblazing career. First introduced to the world in 1984 as a Def Jam Records flagship artist, he is the first rap artist to amass 10 consecutive platinum-plus selling albums. The multi-platinum artist is currently tied for third place for most Billboard chart debuts by a rapper.

As an actor, he currently stars in the top-rated CBS primetime drama series, NCIS: Los Angeles. His performance on the show garnered him an NAACP Image Award four years in a row (2011-2014); he previously won an NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Male Artist” in 2003. Over the years, he has also appeared in more than 30 films and starred opposite many acclaimed actors.

As an author, his works include The New York Times bestseller LL COOL J’s Platinum Workout and LL COOL J’s Platinum 360 Diet and Lifestyle; And the Winner Is, a children’s book that tells the story of a young basketball player who learns the importance of winning and losing gracefully, which was part of Scholastic’s series of books and CDs by rap artists called ‘Hip Kid Hop’; and his 1997 autobiography, I Make My Own Rules.

Expanding into the digital world, LL has also founded Boomdizzle Networks (, which integrates patented collaborative technology with innovative digital marketing to change how music is recorded, distributed, and shared all over the world.

An avid philanthropist, he’s been involved in numerous causes, including literacy for kids as well as music and arts programs in schools. Celebrating its eighth anniversary, his charity Jump & Ball—which takes place every August in his hometown of Queens, N.Y.—aims to give back to his local community by offering a five-week athletic and team building program dedicated to bringing wholesome fun to young people. He is also a member of the Red Cross Celebrity Cabinet, which raises funds and awareness for initiatives tied to the organization.

LL COOL J, his wife, and family currently reside in both New York and Los Angeles.

Wade Davis II
Honorary Degree: Doctor of Public Service


Wade Davis is an advocate, writer, speaker, and educator. Davis is a former NFL player who played for the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, and Seattle Seahawks, as well as two different teams within the NFL Europe league. He’s currently the executive director of the You Can Play Project, an organization dedicated to ending discrimination, sexism, and homophobia in sports through the creation of curriculum, programming, trainings, and conversations focused on inclusion and diversity. In 2013, he co-founded the You Belong Initiative with Darnell L. Moore, an organization that offers LGBTQ and straight-allied youth a series of three-day comprehensive sports instruction and leadership development clinics, as well as the Speaker’s Collective aimed at providing support, promotion, and community for LGBTQA professionals of color.

Since retiring from the NFL, he’s owned a media business through a partnership with The New York Times called InMotion Media. Wade worked as the former assistant director of academic enrichment and work readiness for the Hetrick Martin Institute, where he taught at-promise LGBT youth how to define success for themselves. While working as an advocate, his writings and interviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Advocate, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, and other media outlets including President Barack Obama’s White House blog. He has appeared on MSNBC, BBC, NPR, CNN, ESPN, and BET.

During the 2012 presidential election, Davis worked as an official LGBT Surrogate for President Obama. He has served as an adjunct professor at the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University and is working with national organizations such as the Minority AIDS Institute to combat different intersectional issues including sexism, racism, classism, HIV/AIDS, mass incarceration, poverty, and youth homelessness. He has lectured on the intersections of race, sexuality, gender, and sports at universities nationally and internationally. Recently, Davis spoke at the 2014 NFL owners meeting and is helping to chart at course for the NFL and other sports leagues on how to effectively address issues of diversity and inclusion.

Victor J. Dzau
Graduate ceremony commencement speaker
Honorary Degree: Doctor of Science

Medtronic--Dr. Dzau--arranged by Cynthia Hotvedt

Victor J. Dzau is the chancellor for health affairs and James B. Duke Professor of Medicine at Duke University and the president and CEO of Duke University Health System. Dzau was the Hersey Professor of Theory and Practice of Medicine and chairman of medicine at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and previously the chairman of Department of Medicine at Stanford University. He is the incoming president of the Institute of Medicine, a six-year term set to begin July 1, 2014.

Dzau has made a significant impact on medicine through his seminal research in cardiovascular medicine and genetics, his pioneering work in the discipline of vascular medicine, and recently his leadership in healthcare innovation. His important work on the renin angiotensin system paved the way for the contemporary understanding of RAS in cardiovascular disease and the development of RAS inhibitors as therapeutics. Dzau also pioneered gene therapy for vascular disease and his recent work on stem cell “paracrine mechanism” and the use of microRNA in direct reprogramming provide novel insight into stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.

In his role as a leader in healthcare, Dzau has led efforts in healthcare innovation. His vision is for academic health sciences centers to lead the transformation of medicine through innovation, translation, and globalization. Leading this vision at Duke, he and colleagues developed the Duke Translational Medicine Institute, the Duke Global Health Institute, the Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School, and strategic alliances with other private and public partners. Their efforts have been aimed at creating a seamless continuum from discovery science to clinical care. Recently, he has launched the Duke Institute for Health Innovation to promote transformative innovation in health and healthcare through high-impact research, new models of care delivery, leadership development, education innovation, and cultivation of a community of entrepreneurs.

As one of the world’s preeminent academic health leaders, Dzau advises governments, corporations, and universities worldwide, serving on advisory councils and boards of directors. He has served as a member of the Council of the Institute of Medicine and the Advisory Committee to the director of the National Institutes of Health and as chair of the NIH Cardiovascular Disease Advisory Committee and of the Association of Academic Health Centers. Currently he is a member of the board of directors of the Singapore Health System, governing board of Duke-National University Singapore Medical School, and Senior Health Policy Advisor to Her Highness Sheikha Moza (the chair of the Qatar Foundation and vice chair of the Supreme Council of Health). He is also on the board of health governors of the World Economic Forum and is chair of its Global Agenda Council on Personalized and Precision Medicine. In 2011, he led a partnership between Duke University, World Economic Forum, and McKinsey, and he founded the nonprofit organization International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery and chairs its board of directors.

Among his honors and recognitions are the Gustav Nylin Medal from the Swedish Royal College of Medicine; the Max Delbruck Medal from Humboldt University, Charite, and the Max Planck Institute; the Commemorative Gold Medal from the Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich; the Inaugural Hatter Award from the Medical Research Council of South Africa; the Polzer Prize from the European Academy of Sciences and Arts; the Novartis Award for Hypertension Research; and the Distinguished Scientist Award from the American Heart Association and the 2010 AHA Research Achievement Award for his contributions to cardiovascular biology and medicine. He has received six honorary doctorates.

Donald G. Comb
Honorary degree: Doctor of Science


Donald G. Comb is the founder and chairman of the board of New England Biolabs, Inc.

Prior to taking a position at Harvard Medical School, he attended the University of Michigan, where he earned a doctorate in epidemiology. Comb’s commitment to science led to its inception in 1974 and his scientific vision shaped the New England Biolabs as a world leader in the discovery, development, and commercialization of recombinant and native enzymes for genomic research.

Comb’s passion for science, art, and the environment also led to the creation of the New England Biolabs Foundation, a program that promotes environmental awareness and social change, as well as the Ocean Genome Legacy Program, which he believes will help to prevent the extinction of endangered sea life. Founded by Comb in 2001, the Ocean Genome Legacy is a public biorepository of rare and remarkable ocean creatures; OGL recently found its new home at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center.

Comb’s commitment to the environment is evident on the New England Biolabs campus, from the LEED-certified laboratory designed to minimize its impact on the surrounding landscape to the Solar Aquatics System designed to treat the campus’ wastewater. Comb’s beliefs are deeply woven into the corporate philosophy. As a result, New England Biolabs has had the honor of being lauded with the “2009 Recycling Business Award” and the “2010 Best Places to Work” award by The Scientist magazine.

Although Comb has stepped down from his position as CEO, he continues to serve on the board of directors. He also maintains an active research laboratory at New England Biolabs. His interests include parasitology, epigenetics, and the development of biofuels; his current research focus involves the isolation and biochemical characterization of novel cellulases.