Award-winning artist and 1999 College graduate John Legend won the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship 2021 Alumni Achievement Award.
The award is given to alumni who represent excellence in the Penn and Wharton startup community. The March 3 award ceremony was hosted by the Wharton School’s Venture Lab, a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation. The virtual event was moderated by Wharton Dean Erika James and introduced by President Amy Gutmann.
Wharton Vice Dean of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Karl Ulrich told Penn Today that Legend exemplifies important pillars of the Venture Lab mission, making him a fitting recipient of the award. He pointed to Legend’s status as a College graduate, which represents the Venture Lab's intent to support the entire Penn community, and his entrepreneurial approach to areas outside of the business realm.
Legend graduated magna cum laude and received an honorary degree from Penn in 2014, when he served as the University's commencement speaker.
Although Legend is most well known for his contributions to the arts, having been the first Black man to receive each of the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards, he has also made significant contributions to the movements for social justice and equality.
In 2007, Legend created the Show Me Campaign, which aims to give every child access to quality education and to end the school-to-prison pipeline and other systemic issues in the criminal justice system. Legend also launched the LRNG Innovators program in collaboration with the National Writing Project and the MacArthur Foundation to support teachers in their pursuits to redesign learning. Most recently, he launched FREEAMERICA, a campaign to end mass incarceration in the United States.
At the event, Legend discussed his career path from Penn student to business consultant at the Boston Consulting Group to world-renowned performing artist. Legend said that, after graduation, he took a safe corporate job while pursuing music on the side to follow his dream of becoming a full-time musician.
He told aspiring entrepreneurs to practice patience and persistence, especially at the start of their careers.
"Have grit, have determination, have perseverance and resilience," Legend said. "That will get you through all your ‘nos’ until your ‘yes’ comes.”