Rutgers to Confer Five Honorary Degrees at May Commencement; Fashion Designer-Entrepreneur Marc Eckō to Receive Doctor of Humane Letters and Deliver Keynote Address

Rutgers to Confer Five Honorary Degrees at May Commencement; Fashion Designer-Entrepreneur Marc Eckō to Receive Doctor of Humane Letters and Deliver Keynote Address

Business leader-social activist Alfred C. Koeppe, artist-author Faith Ringgold, jazz musician-composer Sonny Rollins and social psychologist Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo also to be honored by State University of New Jersey

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Fashion designer and entrepreneur Marc Eckō, founder of one of the world’s most recognizable clothing brands, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree before delivering the keynote address at Rutgers’ 243rd Commencement  May 20 in New Brunswick. Eckō has designed a special Rutgers-inspired line of apparel. 

Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick will confer approximately 11,600 academic degrees during the 1:30 p.m. universitywide ceremony on Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue Campus. Representatives from all 27 degree-granting units and their guests, faculty and staff attend this ceremony. 

Alfred C. Koeppe, president and CEO of the Newark Alliance, a graduate of Rutgers-Newark’s College of Arts and Sciences (NCAS) and a member of Rutgers’ Hall of Distinguished Alumni, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Faith Ringgold, a renowned artist, author, teacher, social activist and humanitarian, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. Sonny Rollins, an internationally acclaimed saxophonist and composer, will be recognized with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo, a professor emeritus at Stanford University and internationally esteemed for his scholarship in social psychology, will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree. 

Eckō, from Lakewood, N.J., whose talents and interests led him toward graffiti art, skateboarding and hip-hop culture, enrolled in Rutgers’ College of Pharmacy, his father’s alma mater, but maintained his interest in clothing design. In 1993, at 20, he left school and launched a men’s urban apparel line.

Today, Marc Eckō Enterprises boasts more than 1,000 employees and has included up to a dozen separate Eckō Unlimited and EckōRed apparel and accessories lines.

Eckō has said he believes Rutgers played a significant role in his design sensibility and, in 2007, he signed an international co-branding agreement for the production of a line of Rutgers sportswear that was launched last year.

Beyond the business world, Eckō and his wife Allison, whom he met at Rutgers, are dedicated to a number of socially conscious initiatives. He generously supported the Tikva Children’s Home for orphaned, abandoned and homeless children in Odessa, Ukraine, and also founded Sweat Equity Enterprises, a four-year after-school design and mentoring program for New York City students, particularly underserved urban youth. Eckō also supports efforts to save the world’s endangered rhino population.  

Koeppe, a businessman, attorney and social activist, has made major contributions to the economic well-being and workforce development of the city of Newark and will speak at the joint NCAS/University College-Newark collegiate convocation 2 p.m. Thursday, May 21 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC).

A graduate of the Seton Hall University School of Law, Koeppe began his career with the New Jersey Bell Telephone Co. and later became a trial attorney for the New Jersey Department of the Public Defender and, subsequently, an attorney for AT&T. Following a stint as president and CEO of Bell Atlantic-New Jersey, he joined the Public Service Electric and Gas Co. (PSE&G), becoming president and chief operating officer in 2000. Under his leadership, PSE&G completed the South Ward Industrial Park Building in inner city Newark, celebrated by President Clinton as a national model that created jobs and greater family stability for Newark residents.

Upon his retirement in 2003, Koeppe became president and CEO of the Newark Alliance, a nonprofit that works to improve economic conditions and the quality of the educational system in Newark. He has been chair of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

Ringgold is a professor emerita at the University of California, San Diego, where she taught art from 1984 to 2002. Today she is best known for her painted story quilts, which combine painting, quilted fabric and storytelling. An advocate for social change since the 1960s, particularly for women and African-Americans, she helped found in 1972 the Women Students and Artists for Black Liberation, which sought equal representation for both men and women in African-American art exhibitions. She and her daughter, the writer Michele Wallace, were founding members of the National Black Feminist Organization.

Ringgold has received 20 honorary doctorates and more than 75 awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship for painting and two National Endowment for the Arts awards. Her works are held in permanent collections of such museums as the Solomon R. Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian Institution. Rutgers’ Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum mounted her first retrospective. The author of 15 books, she has donated her papers to the Rutgers University Libraries.

Rollins was first recorded in 1949 at 19, and was influenced early in his career by pioneering jazz tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and piano legend Thelonious Monk. He joined the renowned Clifford Brown-Max Roach quintet in 1955 and recorded his widely acclaimed album Saxophone Colossus a year later.

Rollins won the prestigious Down Beat magazine poll as “new star of the tenor saxophone,” but later went into a three-year, self-imposed exile that ended in 1962. Since then, his music has been marked by an intensified creativity. His many honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, induction into Down Beat’s Hall of Fame and the prestigious Polar Music Prize. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded Rollins his first performance Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for This Is What I Do in 2001, and his second for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for Why Was I Born in 2005. He received the Grammy organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, and stands today as the great living jazz soloist and the most formidable of jazz improvisers.

Zimbardo, a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale University, taught at Yale, NYU and Columbia before joining the faculty of Stanford in 1968. Over the past 50 years, he has taught introductory psychology to tens of thousands of students, employing a teaching style that meshes rigorous scholarship, accessible presentation and his subject matter’s relevance to real life.

During Zimbardo’s long and distinguished career, his research has addressed such areas as evil, time perspective, heroism, persuasion, cults, violence, shyness, terrorism and classroom teaching. His most famous study is the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, which demonstrated the power of situational forces to distort personal identities and overwhelm ordinary, good people, causing them to act in opposition to their cherished values. Some of his recent research has examined factors that contribute to terrorism and prisoner abuse, with implications for explaining the events that took place at Abu Ghrabib Prison in Iraq.

The author of more than 350 professional publications, Zimbardo created, co-wrote and hosted the popular PBS television series Discovering Psychology, which is shown in many undergraduate psychology classes at Rutgers and other colleges and universities in the United States and abroad.

Media Contact: Steve Manas
732-932-7084, ext. 612
E-mail: smanas@ur.rutgers.edu