Janet Napolitano, the former Secretary of Homeland Security who is now president of the University of California, will deliver Northeastern’s 112th commencement address on May 2, 2014. Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University, broke the news on Twitter Tuesday night.
A dedicated and distinguished public servant, Napolitano will receive an honorary doctorate during the morning undergraduate ceremony at TD Garden, which will include 20,000 undergraduate students, family members, friends, and university leaders.
“The breadth and depth of President Napolitano’s achievements—as governor of Arizona, Secretary of Homeland Security, and now as the leader of one of the world’s great systems of higher education—are inspiring,” Aoun said. “Her commitment to making an impact on society through public service is exemplary of the accomplished, fulfilled life we aspire for all Northeastern graduates to achieve.”
In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Napolitano as the nation’s third Secretary of Homeland Security. She was the first woman appointed to serve in that role, in which she led multiple agencies whose missions range from counterterrorism and border security to disaster response and recovery.
Obama also named Napolitano to lead the U.S. delegation to the Sochi Games earlier this year.
Napolitano was named the 20th president of the University of California. Since taking office in September 2013, she has launched initiatives across a range of issues, including support for student veterans, increasing the pipeline of underrepresented minority students pursuing advanced degrees, and tuition stabilization and financial aid for undocumented students. In addition, she has committed to achieving carbon neutrality across the UC system by 2025, increasing faculty support through post-doctoral fellowships, translating research into products and services, and strengthening engagement with Mexico.
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.
“Higher education is the key to developing future generations of the individuals who will ensure the strength of communities across our nation and beyond our borders,” Napolitano said. “It’s an honor to have been asked to address the Northeastern University graduates who will help lead the way.”
During her four-year tenure as Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano took important steps to tap into the expertise and research capacity of American colleges and universities, including the formation of the new Homeland Security Academic Advisory Council. Comprised of 19 prominent university presidents and academic leaders—including President Aoun—the council is charged with advising the secretary and the department’s senior leadership on several key issues.
Napolitano has a longstanding commitment to public service. In addition to serving at the federal level as Secretary of Homeland Security and U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona, she has held leadership positions in the Arizona state government including governor and attorney general. Napolitano made education—from pre-kindergarten through higher education—a top priority while governor and during her tenure became the first woman to chair the National Governors Association.
Napolitano was born in New York and spent much of her childhood in Pittsburgh and Albuquerque, N.M., where her father was dean of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. In 1979, she earned a bachelor of science in political science from Santa Clara University and was the university’s first Truman Scholar and its first female valedictorian. She earned her juris doctor from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1983.
Napolitano follows Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, who delivered Northeastern’s 2013 undergraduate commencement address. Prior commencement speakers include U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton; former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell; philanthropist and international business leader Kenneth Cole; former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev; and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Northeastern will announce additional honorary degree recipients for this year’s commencement in the coming weeks. Each year, the university recognizes the leadership and accomplishments of a broad array of individuals who will inspire graduates and all members of the Northeastern community.