John Legend announced as commencement speaker

Former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe and Raymond Perelman will also receive honorary degrees

· February 17, 2014, 10:03 pm   ·  Updated February 20, 2014, 2:01 pm

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Penn graduate and nine-time Grammy Award-winning singer and musician John Legend delivers the 12th Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lecture in Social Justice.


John Legend will be telling the class of 2014 that they are no “ordinary people” this May.

The nine-time Grammy Award-winning singer and 1999 College graduate will deliver the commencement address this year. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Music at the ceremony.

Among those who will be awarded honorary degrees is Raymond Perelman, who endowed a record-breaking $225 million to the Perelman School of Medicine, which was subsequently named after him and his wife.

In addition, Olympia Snowe, a former U.S. Senator who was the first woman to serve in both houses of Congress and both houses of state legislature and was influential in key policy issues, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws.

Although Legend is most famous for his music, he is also a philanthropist and activist who has received many awards for his humanitarian work. He launched the Show Me Campaign in 2007, which seeks to break the cycle of poverty through education in the United States and Africa.

Inspired by Legend’s song “Show Me,” which questions the suffering in the world, the campaign partners with educational organizations like Teach for America and awards fellowships to college students working in international development or education.

Legend was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009.

Rolling Stone gave Legend’s new album, “Love in the Future,” a three-and-half star review, saying, “Undies fly away like silken doves when the reigning king of hip-hop soul is in the general vicinity.”

College senior Ricky Swieton said that he is particularly excited to have John Legend as the speaker because he represents minority students at Penn and specifically those who are involved in the arts.

“I think it’s interesting to have someone who came from Penn, who came from our perspective and who was able to do something he was passionate about and leave his mark,” he said.

However, Swieton said that he was slightly surprised to hear that Legend selected because he thought Legend might have been “insulted” after his performance was cut short at the Time to Shine concert last year.

College senior Carolina Angel said that she “would have loved to see a female commencement speaker or a female woman of color” this year. The last female commencement speaker was Jodie Foster, who spoke in 2006.

Engineering senior Nicole Xu said she thinks it will be good to “see a Penn alum who is really successful” talk at graduation.

While at Penn, Legend served as the president and musical director of the a cappella group Counterparts while recording his own albums. He graduated at 19 with a degree in English and a concentration in African-American literature.

Legend has remained active at Penn, performing at the Making History celebration and delivering the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture in 2013. He also spoke at the 2009 College of Arts and Sciences graduation.

The last musician to speak at commencement was Bono in 2004.

Deputy News Editor Laura Anthony and Staff Writer Jenny Lu contributed reporting.

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