Local Colleges Boast Oprah, James Mattis as Commencement Speakers

Our local college graduates will get to hear from the likes of J.J. Abrams, Rep. John Lewis, UN Assistant Secretary General Jessica Faieta, and more.


It’s college commencement season! The Valley is home to an abundance of great schools, and this year there is no shortage of star power and influencers speaking to our graduates. Check out the list below to see who is stopping by our local institutions of higher learning in the next few weeks.

Vassar College

Date: May 28

Speaker: Posse Foundation president Deborah Bial will deliver the address for Vassar’s 153rd Commencement Ceremony. The Posse Foundation is an organization that sends teams of students from diverse backgrounds to college; it’s become one of the most comprehensive college success and scholarship programs in the country under Bial’s leadership. What makes Bial’s speech special for Vassar this year is that among the class of 2017 are a group of Veterans that attended Vassar under a model that Bial pioneered.

- Advertisement -
wikimedia commons/aphrodite-in-nyc

Skidmore College

Date: May 20

Speakers: Skidmore boasts an impressive lineup of commencement speakers this year: Oprah Winfrey (above), Ann Rubenstein Tisch, and Wes Moore will all address the undergraduate students.

Successful media mogul and philanthropist Oprah is best known for her long-running talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as being nominated for an Oscar for The Color Purple, and overseeing and running OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network as Chairman and CEO. She is also an avid philanthropist, and in 2013 was awarded the Medal of Freedom.

Ann Rubenstein Tisch is the founder and president of the Young Women’s Leadership Network. The organization operates the Young Women’s Leadership Schools and CollegeBound Initiative.

Wes Moore is the CEO of BridgeU, a national initiative that focuses on addressing college completion and job placement, as well as an Army Veteran and the New York Times bestselling author of The Other Wes Moore and The Work.

- Partner Content -

Marist College

Date: May 20

Speaker: Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post journalist Eugene Robinson will deliver remarks during Marist’s 71st Commencement Ceremony. Robinson received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2009.

SUNY New Paltz

Date: May 20 and 21

Speakers: UN Assistant Secretary-General Jessica Faieta will deliver the commencement address to SUNY New Paltz’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences on Saturday. Faieta is an alumna of New Paltz, having completed programs in economics and business as well as the college’s ESL program. She was appointed UN assistant secretary-general for Latin America and the Caribbean in 2014 and serves as the the regional director for the UN Development Programme.

Banker and SUNY New Paltz Foundation Board Chair Michael Keegan will speak at Sunday’s Commencement Ceremony for students in the schools of Business, Education, Science & Engineering and Fine & Performing Arts. Keegan joined the board of SUNY New Paltz in 2003 and is currently Senior Vice President for M&T Bank, acting as area executive for Upstate New York and New England.

- Advertisement -

SUNY Purchase

Date: May 19

Speaker: Multi-disciplinary artist, writer, and educator on LGBTQ issues Cody La Vada will speak during Purchase’s 45th annual commencement.

United States Military Academy at West Point

Date: May 27

Speaker: Secretary of Defense James Mattis  will deliver the commencement address for West Point’s graduating cadets. Mattis is the 26th secretary of defense, and previously served as commander for the United States Central Command and commander of the United States Joint Forces Command.

Sarah Lawrence

Date: May 19

Speaker: Acclaimed director and producer J.J. Abrams will speak at his alma mater for the 89th commencement. Abrams is known for writing, producing, and directing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, producing and directing Star Trek, writing and directing Super 8 and Mission Impossible III, and creating or co-creating the TV series’ Felicity, Alias, Fringe, and Lost. Check out our exclusive interview with Abrams here.

SUNY Albany

Date: May 21

Speaker: U.S. Astronaut and retired Navy Captain Scott Kelly  will address SUNY Albany’s graduates. Kelly became America’s first year-round astronaut when he completed a historic mission aboard the International Space Station from March 2015 to March 2016.

Bard College

Date: May 27

Speaker: Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis will deliver remarks for Bard’s 157th commencement ceremony. Rep. Lewis was elected to Congress to represent Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District in 1986 and has served ever since. He is senior chief deputy whip for the Democratic Party, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and its Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, and ranking member of its Subcommittee on Oversight. In 1963 at the age of 23, Rep. Lewis was an architect and a keynote speaker at the March on Washington. In 1965, Rep. Lewis and civil rights leader Hosea Williams led 600 peaceful protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama intending to march to Montgomery before they were attacked by Alabama state troopers in what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” News and media of the event helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Rep. Lewis is a recipient of the Medal of Freedom and the John F. Kennedy “Profile in Courage” Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Iona College

Date: May 20

Speaker: Telecom entrepreneur and Iona alumnus James P. Hynes will deliver the commencement remarks during Iona’s 73rd commencement ceremony. Hynes is a co-founder and the first CEO of Inteliquent, founder and first CEO of COLT, PLC, and has several successful venture capitalist investments in telecommunications and technology companies.

wikimedia commons/Kenneth C. Zirkel


College of New Rochelle

Date: May 23

Speaker: Debra L. Lee (above), Chairman and CEO of BET, will give remarks for New Rochelle’s 110th commencement ceremony. Lee has overseen reinvigorating the BET brand and the company’s growth initiatives. Lee was appointed by former President Barack Obama to the White House Management Advisory Board and is a member emeritus of the Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age.

Our Digital Partners

Learn how to become a digital partner ...

Our Excellence in Nursing Awards take place on May 1!

Our Best of Hudson Valley ballot is open through March 31!

Unveiled: A Boutique Bridal Brunch is February 25!

Holiday flash sale ... subscribe and save 50%

Limited time offer. New subscribers only.