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Commencement Speaker: “The Most Powerful Woman in Entertainment”

Announcement of alum Bonnie Hammer comes at Senior Breakfast


Named the most powerful woman in entertainment by the Hollywood Reporter, Bonnie Hammer, the chair of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, will deliver the 144th Commencement address on Sunday, May 21, at Nickerson Field.

BU President Robert A. Brown announced Hammer (CGS’69, COM’71, SED’75) as the Commencement speaker during Thursday’s Class of 2017 Senior Breakfast at the George Sherman Union Metcalf Ballroom, where 2,500 well-dressed soon-to-be graduates noshed on tarts, scones, muffins, fruit, and Applewood-smoked bacon. Songs like Drake’s “Started from the Bottom,” One Direction’s “Best Song Ever,” and Lorde’s “Royals” and a video of vignettes created by Arlin Moore (COM’19), featuring Terrier hockey highlights and an explanation of the BU seal, set the mood.

Hammer will receive a Doctor of Humane letters. The president also named this year’s other honorary degree recipients: former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, Doctor of Humane Letters; Nobel Prize winner and climate change champion Mario J. Molina, Doctor of Laws; longtime BU trustee and overseer Robert A. Knox (CAS’74, Questrom’75), Doctor of Laws; and Jeanne Knox, BU Parents Leadership Council chairwoman, Doctor of Humane Letters. Molina will deliver this year’s Baccalaureate speech on Commencement morning at Marsh Chapel, and Robert Knox will be the speaker at Questrom’s convocation on May 19. Maxwell T. Robidoux (CAS’17) was announced as this year’s student speaker.

Brown also announced the winners of the University’s highest teaching honors. This year the top teaching honor, the Metcalf Cup and Prize, will go to Naomi Mann, a School of Law clinical associate professor of law. Sophie Godley (SPH’17), a School of Public Health clinical assistant professor of community health sciences, and Gary Lawson, LAW’s Philip S. Beck Professor of Law, will be given Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching. The three faculty members will be honored at the Commencement ceremony.

Bonnie Hammer, chair of NBCUniversal

Bonnie Hammer, chair of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment. Photo by Mary Rozzi

As chair of the NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, Hammer has executive oversight of one of the industry’s most successful cable network portfolios, which includes USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen, and E! Entertainment. Among the current shows under her leadership are Mr. Robot, Top Chef, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Battlestar Galactica, and the Real Housewives franchise. She also supervises two Hollywood studios, Universal Cable Productions and Wilshire Studios.

Hammer earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from BU’s College of Communication and a master’s in media and new technology from the School of Education. She began her career as a production assistant with nearby WGBH-TV before becoming an executive producer at local ABC affiliate WCVB-TV. From there, she produced several PBS series and was executive producer of documentaries at Lifetime before moving on to USA Network. At USA, she helped transform World Wrestling Entertainment from niche programming into a major entertainment brand. She has received numerous professional awards and accolades, including being named to the Fortune list of the 50 Most Powerful Women and the Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

She has also been honored by the UJA-Federation of New York and B’nai B’rith. This year Hammer is relaunching her Erase the Hate prosocial campaign, which she first began in 1994. The Emmy-winning public affairs initiative aims to combat hate and racism while promoting understanding and acceptance of individual differences.

Ortiz, better known in the sports world as Big Papi, is a retired Major League Baseball player whose career spanned 20 seasons, the last 14 with the Boston Red Sox. He is a 10-time MLB All-Star and has collected 3 World Series wins, the first the 2004 title that ended the Red Sox 86-year championship drought. He was named Most Valuable Player of the 2013 World Series.

The designated hitter earned 541 home runs (ranking 17th all-time) and drove in 1,768 runs (22nd all-time) in his career. He officially retired from the Red Sox at the end of last season.

Off the field, Ortiz works on behalf of numerous charitable causes. In 2005, he founded the David Ortiz Children’s Fund to help provide critical pediatric care to children in New England and his native Dominican Republic who do not have ready access to such services. The organization has netted more than $2 million for children in need and has saved an estimated 500 lives in the Dominican Republic.

Ortiz was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; he became an American citizen in 2008. His number, 34, will be officially retired on June 23 at Fenway Park, an honor that has been bestowed on only 10 other Red Sox players in the 116-year history of the franchise.

Molina is a recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded for pioneering work in atmospheric chemistry—specifically, predicting the depletion of the ozone layer as a direct consequence of the emission of chlorofluorocarbons. His team’s subsequent research and publications on the subject led to the United Nations Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, hailed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as “one of the most successful environmental treaties in history.”

Currently a professor at the University of California, San Diego, Molina has a joint appointment in the department of chemistry and biochemistry and its Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the leading research institutions on climate change. He also presides over the Mario Molina Center for Strategic Studies in Energy and the Environment in Mexico City. Much of his work is dedicated to science policy issues related to climate change and promotes global actions in favor of sustainable development along with strong economic growth.

He served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under Barack Obama, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the UN Champions of the Earth Award.

Tamara Nwosu and Kembo Matungulu smiling

Seniors enjoyed the video of highlights played during the Class of 2017 Senior Breakfast. Photo by Cydney Scott

Robert A. Knox is cofounder and senior managing director of the private equity firm Cornerstone Equity Investors, L.L.C. Prior to the formation of Cornerstone, he was chairman and CEO of Prudential Equity Investors, Inc. He has served on the boards of more than 30 private and public companies.

Knox holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the College of Arts & Sciences and a Master of Business Administration from the Questrom School of Business. He was a BU trustee for 20 years, chairing the Board of Trustees from 2008 to 2016. He is currently a trustee emeritus and is currently a member of the University’s Board of Overseers. He has served on numerous committees and on the dean’s advisory councils for both the Questrom School of Business and the College of Arts & Sciences. In 2012, through the Robert and Jeanne Knox Foundation, he and his wife gave $2.5 million to endow the Robert A. Knox Professorship at the School of Public Health to promote excellence in scholarship, research, teaching, and contribution to society.

He devotes much of his energy outside the office to health care concerns, including assisting the parents of children with type 1 diabetes.

Jeanne Knox is the chairwoman of the Boston University Parents Leadership Council, a position she has held since the council’s inception in 2003. Under her leadership, the Parents Program has become a highly visible and engaging outreach effort from the Dean of Students office.

She holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Salve Regina University and a Master of Science in Nursing from Boston College. As a registered nurse in both Boston and New York City, she focused on perinatal and neonatal care, with an emphasis on high-risk mothers and babies. She also served as the director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Fairfield County in Connecticut.

Upon her first child entering BU, Knox turned her attention to the Parents Program. She has also worked with the advisory committee for Trustee Spouse Outreach and the International Advisory Board, and since 2009 has served on the Dean’s Advisory Board of Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences. She and her husband gave $2.5 million through the Robert and Jeanne Knox Foundation to endow the Robert A. Knox Professorship at the School of Public Health.

The University has recognized her substantial contributions to student life with an Honorary Scarlet Key Award. Jeanne and Robert Knox have two children, Merrill Knox Grant (COM’06) and Robert A. Knox, Jr. (SAR’10, SPH’12).

At the breakfast, event emcee Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), associate provost and dean of students, welcomed the 2017 Class Gift cochairs, Louis Vitti (Questrom’17) and Victoria Olakojo (Questrom’17), who thanked the senior class for their generosity. Over 2,500 donors from the Class of 2017 have supported 170 different funds so far, and these seniors are on their way to breaking the record for the most philanthropic graduating class in BU history (the Class of 2016 currently holds that record, with 2,719 donors).

Vitti and Olakojo said that donors to the BU Pub’s renovation crowdfunding project are invited to the BU Pub Sabbatical Student Celebration, being held today from 4 to 7 p.m. This will be the final event held at the Pub before it closes for a year of renovations, which will be part of the Castle’s transformation into the University’s new Alumni Center, and will include an upgraded kitchen and a four-season patio for the Pub.

Next to speak was the Senior Breakfast’s alumni speaker, Jeffrey Herrera (CAS’15), who welcomed the Class of 2017 as new members of the BU Alumni Association and offered tips on what he has learned as a recent college grad. “Get involved” in your new community by joining a soccer club or taking a cooking class, he said. “There are 300,000 BU alums worldwide, and that network will be incredibly useful when you are searching for a job or moving to New York City….Don’t stress out about the small things….Focus on the things that matter to you, to your friends and family, and matter in the world….Before you leave today, congratulate your friends and give them a hug.”

Brown closed the event with these words to the graduating seniors: “Have a wonderful conclusion of your academic career, but more importantly, have a wonderful Senior Week and do it safely. I want to see you all on Nickerson Field on a bright, beautiful day like today.”

Find more information about Commencement on the Commencement website.

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