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.