Leading Disability Rights Activist Judith Heumann Addressed the Graduates at the 2020/2021 Combined Ceremony
NYU President Andrew Hamilton and Board of Trustees member and alumnus Evan Chesler today officiated at a special Commencement Ceremony honoring the classes of 2020 and 2021. Some 10,000 students who received undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees amid the global pandemic returned to convene with more than 20,000 family, friends, alumni, faculty, and other NYU community members in a first-ever evening All-University celebration at Yankee Stadium, part of a “double-header” Commencement Day that included a morning ceremony honoring the Class of 2022.
Judith Heumann—a decades-long activist credited with the development and implementation of groundbreaking legislation supporting people with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act—received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree, honoris causa. She delivered remarks on behalf of the honorary degree recipients.
“The last few years have been hard, and at times heart-breaking, no question about it. But like the finest of swords—or chocolates if you prefer—the tempering you’ve experienced in the forge of the pandemic has made you stronger, even when you might not always feel that way,” said Heumann “That’s why I’m so excited about the world you are going to rebuild - and are already shaping - with your creativity, your power, and your diverse voices.”
President Hamilton said, “It’s customary in a Commencement speech for a university president to set the tone before students go out into the world and continue their new lives. But being as you’ve already been out on your own, the tables are somewhat turned today. I would venture a guess that we have a lot to learn from you…There is little wisdom I can impart on your classes who have displayed a maturity beyond your years, navigating your time at NYU and your new lives with such grace and aplomb. Today, I am brimming with Violet pride. I am proud of you, and you should be proud of yourselves, too.”
This year’s other recipients of honorary doctorates were:
- Lonnie G. Bunch III - Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture; he received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree, honoris causa.
- Jill Lepore - Harvard professor and award-winning author, journalist, and commentator; she received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree, honoris causa.
The student speakers at the combined 2020/2021 ceremony were Amy Dong (‘20), who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the Stern School of Business, and Diya Radhakrishna (‘21), who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Liberal Studies program.
In keeping with NYU tradition, Commencement included the Ceremony of the Torch. The University Torch—designed and fashioned by Tiffany and Co. in sterling silver and donated to the University in 1911—was passed from a senior member of the faculty—Judith Haber, Ursula Springer Leadership Professor in Nursing at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing —to the youngest undergraduate degree recipients from both the Classes of 2020 and 2021. That honor went to Richard Shu (‘20), who received a BS from the Tandon School of Engineering at age 19, and Victoria Tong (‘21), who received her degree, a BA from the College of Arts and Science, at age 19.
In honor of the NYU graduates, New York City’s Empire State Building was illuminated in violet on the eve of commencement, May 17.