NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The Rutgers Board of Governors today voted to award an honorary degree to award-winning journalist Lester Holt when he addresses graduates at the 254th-anniversary commencement of Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences on May 17.
With a journalism career that spans four decades, Holt was named NBC Nightly News anchor in June 2015 after eight years as anchor of NBC Nightly News weekend editions and 12 years as co-anchor of Weekend Today, In addition, he has served as principle anchor of Dateline NBC since September 2011.
Holt, who recently earned the distinction of being the “most trusted television news personality in America” in a Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult poll, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the May 17 ceremony at SHI Stadium in Piscataway.
The Board of Governors also voted to award Sandy J. Stewart, a highly respected biotech industry entrepreneur and scientist, and former chair of the Rutgers Board of Trustees and Board of Governors, with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at the ceremony.
Known for his trademark on-the-ground reporting style, Holt is deeply committed to providing viewers with first-person accounts when disasters – including Southern California’s wildfires – and tragedies – such as mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio – strike. He has reported and anchored from breaking news events across the globe, including from Tehran, Iran, after the United States pulled out of its nuclear deal last year, and the from Korean Peninsula as tensions grew between the United States and North Korea just weeks before the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Holt said he is “incredibly honored” for the opportunity to speak to Class of 2020 students at a university with as strong a reputation and long a history as Rutgers.
As a preeminent broadcast journalist, Holt was selected to moderate the first presidential debate of 2016, which was the most-watched debate in American history. Holt also sat down with President Donald Trump in May 2017, which stands as one of the most consequential interviews of his presidency, after Trump told Holt the firing of former FBI head James Comey was tied to the Russia investigation. In January 2017, he traveled with President Barack Obama on the commander in chief’s final trip aboard Air Force One for an in-depth interview in Chicago. Holt was recently a co-moderator for the first Democratic debate, kicking off the 2020 election cycle, which was also the most-watched Democratic debate ever.
During his brief break from covering the 2020 election to speak to Rutgers graduates, Holt expects to address online communications in polarizing times and how they impact journalism.
“As so many of us assume the role of ‘citizen journalists’ via social media, we have to assume the responsibility that comes with it,” he said.
Over the past few years, Holt has distinguished himself as the leading broadcast journalist on criminal justice reform. In 2019, he led a groundbreaking series "Justice for All" across all NBC News platforms. For the network-wide series, Holt spent three days embedded inside Louisiana State Penitentiary, the largest maximum-security prison in America, and moderated the first-ever televised town hall from a maximum-security prison at Sing Sing, all putting a bright spotlight on mass incarceration and the many complex issues around it.
Before becoming co-anchor of Weekend Today in 2003, Holt anchored Lester Holt Live on MSNBC and served as a primary anchor for MSNBC's coverage of major news events. Holt came to MSNBC after 14 years at WBBM-TV in Chicago. He started his television journalism career in 1981 as a reporter at WCBS-TV in New York and then moved to Los Angeles to report for KCBS-TV (then KNXT) before returning to WCBS in 1984.
Holt has been recognized with numerous honors, including multiple Emmy Awards and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. In 2019, he was honored with the prestigious Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. Two years prior in 2017, he was honored with Quinnipiac University’s Fred Friendly First Amendment Award. In 2016, Holt received several notable designations; he was featured on Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list, The Hollywood Reporter’s Most Powerful People in New York list and was named “Journalist of the Year” by the National Association of Black Journalists.
Stewart spent nearly 12 years working for Ciba-Geigy/Novartis Biotechnology Center in Research Park, N.C., as head of the Immunology Group. During that time his group developed assays for multiple products, various diagnostics, invented a novel on-site diagnostic, and was part of the team that brought the first insect-resistant corn plant to the market.
He co-founded several biotechnology companies including Immunovation, Paradigm Genetics, Precion, and most recently Paradigm Botanicals. These companies spanned functional genomics, proteomics and immunology into drug development and diagnostics. In 2010, he joined Metabolon, founded by one of his co-founders at Paradigm Genetics, to advance technology that he developed in 1998. He was one of the first in the world to greatly advance the technology of biochemical profiling that led to the creation of a new field of science called Metabolomics. He is well published, holds numerous patents and sits on various scientific advisory boards.