Northeastern will confer honorary degrees upon a group of influential leaders and figures on Friday at the university’s 116th Commencement, to be held at TD Garden in Boston.
Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS; John Sexton, president emeritus and professor at New York University; and Anthony Foxx, former U.S. Transportation Secretary and former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, will receive honorary degrees. They will be recognized at the university’s undergraduate ceremony, which will take place before a global audience of 20,000 people, including graduates, their families, and members of the Northeastern community.
“Our honorary degree recipients are path-breaking leaders who excel in fields that impact the human experience through education, storytelling, and public service,” said Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern. “They are the perfect role models for our graduates, and we welcome them into the Northeastern family.”
Northeastern announced in March that Aimée Mullins—actor, Paralympian, and trailblazing athlete—will deliver the Commencement address at the undergraduate ceremony. She will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Honorary degree: Doctor of Media
Kerger joined PBS in March 2006, and is the longest-serving president and CEO in the network’s history. In the past decade, PBS moved up from the 15th most-watched network in America to the sixth. Kerger has been instrumental in developing and securing some of PBS’s most popular programming, including the cultural phenomenon Downton Abbey and the acclaimed The Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, as well as making a strong commitment to PBS’s continued excellence in children’s programming.
In the past year, PBS and its producing partners have won four Peabody Awards, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, seven Daytime Emmy Awards, and 12 News & Documentary Emmy Awards—more than any other organization.
Kerger is regularly named to Hollywood Reporter’s “Women in Entertainment Power 100,” an annual survey of the nation’s top women executives in media, as well as Washingtonian Magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Washington.” She has been honored with the National Education Association Friend of Education Award and the Woman of Achievement Award from Women in Development, New York. In 2017, she received the “Advancing American Democracy Award” from the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.
In addition to her role at PBS, Kerger is a member of the Women’s Forum, the director of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and chair of the board of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.
Kerger received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Baltimore.
Honorary degree: Doctor of Humane Letters
Sexton served as president of New York University from 2002 to 2015. As the university’s 15th president, he expanded the institution’s reach and improved its academic stature. Under Sexton’s leadership, NYU became the first major U.S. research institution to establish degree-granting campuses in the Middle East and China.
A legal scholar, Sexton is currently the Benjamin Butler Professor of Law in the NYU School of Law, and serves as NYU president emeritus and law school dean emeritus. Before coming to NYU, he served as law clerk to Chief Justice Warren Burger of the U.S. Supreme Court and to Judges David Bazelon and Harold Leventhal of the U.S. Court of Appeals, and held a 10-year appointment as a special master in the Love Canal toxic waste litigation.
Sexton is a past Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, currently serves on the board of the Institute of International Education, and has held numerous policy and board positions throughout his career. He was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur—the national order of the Legion of Honor of France— in 2008; and he received the President’s Award of the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education in 2012, and the TIAA-CREF Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence in 2015.
Sexton received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Fordham College; a Master of Arts in comparative religion and a doctorate in history of American religion, both from Fordham University; and a juris doctor from Harvard Law School.
Doctor of Public Service
Foxx is the former U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina.
While serving as Transportation Secretary, beginning in June 2013, during President Barack Obama’s second term, Foxx helped lead the passage of the FAST Act—which, at the time, was the first long-term surface transportation bill approved by Congress in eight years. He spearheaded efforts to safely integrate self-driving vehicles into public roadways and introduce federal oversight rules on drones, among other initiatives. He also awarded nearly $30 billion in discretionary federal grants for transportation improvements around the country, giving rise to a national pipeline of projects now poised to seek innovative financing.
When Foxx took office as Charlotte’s mayor in 2009, the city faced its worst recession in more than 80 years. In response, he launched a number of job-creation initiatives, including a campaign trumpeting Charlotte as an energy-industry hub and an overhaul of the city’s small-business loan program. In the area of transportation, Foxx helped salvage the city’s largest single capital project—a light rail extension currently under construction—and helped structure an innovative finance deal to complete the city’s outer beltway, among other initiatives.
Since leaving public service, Foxx has started Related Infrastructure, a new joint venture with New York City-based developer Related Companies. The new business acquires and invests in transportation-related service, management, and development businesses. In December, Foxx was also tapped to lead the Commission on Race and Slavery at Davidson College, his alma mater.
Foxx received a bachelor’s degree in history from Davidson University and a juris doctor from New York University School of Law.