September 19, 2018 | ° F

U. to bestow prestigious honor to five at graduation

Five honorary degree recipients will be acknowledged at the University commencement ceremony on May 20 in Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus, including world-renowned fashion designer Marc Ecko who will deliver the keynote address.

The Board of Governors approved the five recipients at an April 2 meeting. In addition to Ecko, Alfred C. Koeppe, Faith Ringgold, Sonny Rollins and Philip G. Zimbardo will receive honorary degrees from the University.

"It's one of the most prestigious honors that a university can bestow upon someone, someone who is not currently a faculty or staff member," said Assistant Secretary of the University Kate Cahill.

An honorary degree makes a statement about the recipient: they have demonstrated distinguished service in learning or toward their fellow human being, Cahill said. Recipients demonstrate moral qualities that are widely recognized.

Alfred C. Koeppe

Koeppe will receive a doctor of laws degree and is the chief executive officer of the Newark Alliance, a nonprofit organization working to improve the quality of the educational system in Newark.

He serves on the boards of the New Jersey Resources Corporation, Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New Jersey and Seton Hall University, according to the press release.

Koeppe chaired the $25 million capital campaign for the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital in New Brunswick and serves on the leadership committee for the Rutgers Campaign.

He was inducted into the Rutgers University Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2003, according to the press release.

Faith Ringgold

Ringgold is the recipient of the doctor of letters honorary degree and has exhibited her artwork at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum on the College Avenue campus and the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series.

She has lectured on all three University campuses and in 2003 donated her papers to University archives of the University libraries, according to a press release.

Sonny Rollins

Rollins will receive a doctor of fine arts degree, as a saxophonist and composer who recorded with Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

He provided the soundtrack to the movie Alfie, recorded with the Rolling Stones and appeared on their album "Tattoo You."

Rollins won a performance Grammy Award in 2000 and another in 2004 for lifetime achievement, according to a press release.

Philip G. Zimbardo

Zimbardo is a professor emeritus at Stanford University and is internationally recognized for his scholarship in social psychology. He joined the Stanford University faculty in 1968.

His most famous study is the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment in which college students acted out of the roles of inmates and prison guards in a mock prison.

His more recent research looks at terrorism and prisoner abuse, and he has authored more than 350 professional publications. Zimbardo's book, "The Lucifer Effect," was a New York Times bestseller.

Zimbardo is retired but serves as the executive director of Stanford's Center for Interdisciplinary Policy, Education and Research on Terrorism.

Mark Ecko

Ecko enrolled in his father's alma mater, New Jersey College of Pharmacy, and left the University in 1993 at the age of 20 to launch a men's urban apparel line. With a $5,000 investment from business partner Seth Gerzberg and graffiti-inspired T-shirts he made in his parents' garage, he began his business, according to a University Relations press release.

Marc Ecko Enterprises employs more than 1,000 employees and includes up to 12 separate Ecko Unlimited and EckoRed apparel and accessories lines, the Marc Ecko "Cut & Sew" collection, G-Unit Clothing Company, Zoo York, Avirex, Complex magazine,, and Marc Ecko Entertainment. Last year, Ecko released a line of University sportswear, according to the release.

"[Ecko is] certainly very well respected in the fashion world, but he's also … spread his wealth with a lot of underprivileged children across the world literally," Cahill said.

Ecko has supported the Tikva Children's Home for orphaned, abandoned and homeless children in Odessa, Ukraine. His company even launched Sweat Equity Enterprises, a four-year after-school design and mentoring program for New York City students, according to the release.

Students had mixed feelings about Ecko receiving an honorary degree and his selection to speak at University commencement. 

Rutgers College senior Sunnareth Eang was surprised to hear Ecko would be the keynote speaker and did not expect he would be at the University to speak to students. 

"I guess he'll be here to be talking about his success and hopefully he'll give us some advice for the seniors who are still going to be unemployed because of the economy, but I'm looking forward to it," Eang said.

Rutgers College junior Jose Trinidad said Ecko is trying to give back to the school, but thinks the University should have chosen someone more inspiring.

"I don't think he should receive [the degree], because he didn't go to school here. He went to Rutgers for a couple years; he didn't graduate," Trinidad said.

School of Arts and Sciences sophomore David Bright said Ecko is an appropriate speaker because social entrepreneurship is important in the current business climate.

"A lot of people want to be employers rather than employees at this point, given that most of the big companies are just going to fail in the end anyway, so it's better to strike out on your own," Bright said. "[Ecko would be] a good person to talk about that given his accomplishments."

But Rutgers College junior Rami Aris agreed with Trinidad.

"I don't think he should speak because he didn't graduate from Rutgers," Aris said.

The Nomination Process

Honorary degrees can be awarded in four categories including doctor of laws, doctor of letters of doctor of fine arts, doctor of science and doctor of humane letters, Cahill said. Degree recipients possess intellectual gifts and moral qualities that would entitle them to be ranked with people of culture and high principle.

The University Faculty Committee on Honorary Degrees reviews nominations for degree recipients, Cahill said. The committee consists of faculty and students and is representative of all three University campuses: New Brunswick, Camden and Newark.

The committee recommends a University commencement speaker and the public and anyone in the University community can make nominations, she said.

"The nominations originate from the Rutgers community as a whole, and then specifically also from members of the Faculty Committee on Honorary Degrees," Cahill said.

The nomination process begins about a year and half before the actual degree is bestowed upon the recipient, she said. Nominations for this year's recipients were made in fall 2007. The call for honorary degree nominations gets sent to the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees for approval.

Heather Brookhart

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