NEWARK, NJ - Rutgers University has tapped Queen Latifah and Anita Hill to give commencement speeches to the graduating classes at two of the campuses in May of this year.
The decision was announced at the Rutgers Board of Governors Feb. 7 meeting in Newark. Both are regarded as icons of advocacy for feminist and African American social issues.
Yet the announcement still begs the question of who will be the speaker for the commencement ceremony at the school’s main campus in New Brunswick and Piscataway.
Earlier this week, a university spokesperson said that the invitation to former vice president Joe Biden is still standing. Biden was previously on campus in October 2017 as part of the nation-wide “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual violence on college campuses.
Typically, the main speaker is announced at the Rutgers Board of Governors session in April.
Latifah, a Newark native, actress, social activist and hip-hop icon, will speak at the May 14 Rutgers-Newark commencement ceremony, and receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.
Having grown up in East Orange, Latifah went on to win a slew of awards in recognition of her entertainment career and community activism, including a Grammy, Primetime Emmy and Golden Globes.
Locally, she founded a scholarship for low-income youth and has worked to mitigate home foreclosures in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Latifah has also been active with the “Let Girls Learn” campaign, started by former First Lady Michelle Obama, which strives to provide education to 62 million girls across the world who don’t have such opportunities.
"Queen Latifah has been a consistent supporter of Newark and a source of inspiration for creative people and entrepreneurs in our city and throughout the world,” said Lyneir Richardson, Executive Director of The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development at Rutgers.
Anita Hill. Credit: Wikipedia
Hill, a law professor, will speak to graduates at the Rutgers-Camden commencement on May 17 and receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
She’s well known for bringing the issue of sexual harassment to the national spotlight when in 1991, she testified during one of the hearings for then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
Having graduated from Yale Law School in 1980, she worked her way up to U.S Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, where she worked under Thomas, whom she alleged was engaged in inappropriate contact.
She’s been considered a pioneer of women’s rights and the conversation about sexual harassment, and her announcement comes at the heels of the #MeToo movement, a campaign against sexual harassment and assault.
“Prof. Hill is one of our nation’s most powerful voices in addressing equality and discrimination, and has reemerged as a central figure in the current nation discussion regarding sexual harassment,” said Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon.
For 2017, the university tapped musician Steven Van Zandt. The year before, Rutgers officials paid $1.5 million for then-president Barack Obama to be the speaker, as part of the university’s 250th anniversary, and the year before that: Bill Nye the Science Guy.
In 2014, the university tapped former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Her decision drew outcry from student and faculty activists, who argued she was a war criminal due to her involvement with the Iraq War, and as a result should not be honored by the university.
Ultimately, she bowed out of the speakership and was replaced with former NJ Gov. Thomas Kean Sr.