Former NYU president to deliver 2017 Commencement address

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John Sexton, the president-emeritus of New York University, will be the featured speaker at Union's 223rd Commencement.

More than 480 students in the Class of 2017 will receive degrees during the ceremony, scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday, June 11, on Hull Plaza. Sexton will receive an honorary doctorate of laws degree.

Sexton served as president from 2002 through 2015. He is NYU’s Benjamin Butler Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus of the Law School.

During his presidency, NYU’s reach and stature grew significantly. He oversaw the university’s largest increase in the number of arts and science faculty, applications for undergraduate admissions reached record levels, and NYU’s world rankings increased dramatically. Other milestones include a merger with Polytechnic University, now the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, and, in 2008, the most successful completed fundraising campaign in the history of American higher education.

A signature of Sexton’s tenure was the emergence of NYU as a Global Network University, with a network of 11 international academic centers on six continents and degree-granting campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai.

“We are delighted and honored to welcome someone of John Sexton’s stature to Union,” said President Stephen C. Ainlay. “He has been a tireless advocate for higher education. I’m personally gratified to call John a friend, and I’m certain his message to graduates is something they will remember for a long time.”

A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Sexton also serves on the board of the Institute of International Education and is past chair of the American Council on Education.

In 2015, he received the TIAA-CREF Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence, recognizing outstanding university presidents, and the Institute of International Education’s Duggan Award for Mutual Understanding. In spring 2016 he held the Kluge Chair in American Law and Governance at the Library of Congress. He is the recipient of 18 honorary degrees.

He received a bachelor’s degree in history, a master’s degree in comparative religion and a Ph.D. in the history of American religion, all from Fordham University. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School.

Sexton served as chair of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2003 to 2006. Before coming to NYU, Sexton clerked at the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. From 1966-1975, he was a professor of religion at Saint Francis College in Brooklyn.

The College will also award an honorary doctorate of science degree to Tyler Jacks, a cancer research pioneer. Jacks is the director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the David H. Koch Professor of Biology and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

At MIT, Jacks has pioneered the use of gene targeting technology to study cancer-associated genes and to construct models of many human cancer types, including cancers of the lung, brain and ovary. His laboratory has made seminal contributions to the understanding of the effects of mutations of several common cancer-associated genes. This research has led to novel insights into tumor development, normal development and other cellular processes, as well as new strategies for cancer detection and treatment. Jacks has published more than 200 scientific papers.

Jacks was nominated by Scott Kirkton, associate professor of biology.