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Syracuse University to Award Five Honorary Degrees at 2017 Commencement
A global business leader and champion of the underserved; a civil rights activist and prominent attorney; a leading scholar in wireless communications; a preservationist of Native American culture; and a visionary artist of contemporary issues will be awarded honorary degrees by Syracuse University for their accomplishments and outstanding life’s work.
Frank Bisignano, First Data chairman and CEO; Vernon E. Jordan Jr., civil rights activist and a senior managing director of Lazard Frères & Co. LLC in New York; Vincent Poor, the Michael Henry Strater University Professor of Electrical Engineering at Princeton University; Thomas Porter (Sakokwenionkwas, “the one who wins”), the founder, spokesperson and spiritual leader of the Mohawk Community of Kanatsiohareke; and Carrie Mae Weems, an internationally known photographer and video installation artist, will be honored at Syracuse University’s 163rd Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 14, in the Carrier Dome. Jordan will deliver the 2017 Commencement address.
Doctor of Laws
Bisignano has forged a distinguished business career as a leader of global companies, but his success in the public sector has been just as impactful, championing the importance of higher education and supporting those disadvantaged in society.
Since joining First Data Corp. as chief executive officer in 2013, Bisignano has led the transformation of the company as the world’s largest traditional payment processor into a technology innovator. Under his leadership, the company has established new products and services to assist large and small enterprises grow their businesses. First Data, under Bisignano, enables electronic payments around the world, 2,800 times a second, for more than six million merchant locations, more than 4,000 card issuers and millions of consumers.
Before his time at First Data, Bisignano was the co-chief operating officer for JPMorgan Chase and the CEO of Mortgage Banking at JPMorgan Chase. As co-chief operating officer, Bisignano oversaw global technology, real estate, operations, procurement, compliance, regulatory control and oversight, resiliency, security and safety, and general services for JPMorgan Chase’s businesses in more than 60 countries.
Bisignano, the son of a World War II veteran who instilled in him the guiding values of integrity, perseverance and the desire to give back, has made it a priority to create career opportunities for veterans. While at JPMorgan Chase, he founded the 100,000 Jobs Mission, a coalition of 11 companies that has grown to 170 firms and has collectively hired more than 160,000 veterans. Through his roles at JPMorgan Chase, Bisignano led the company’s support of an investment in Syracuse University’s work with veterans, resulting in the launch of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), and earlier an investment in a technology center where students and faculty worked side-by-side with bank employees conducting global technology operations.
At First Data, his commitment to veterans has continued through an array of opportunities for returning military and their families, including support to the IVMF in its programs serving military and veteran entrepreneurs and small-business owners. He has also been a strong supporter of diversity, helping to create affinity groups for both women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at First Data.
Bisignano serves on the boards of Partnership for New York City and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, and the IVMF advisory board. In 2014, Bisignano received the Colonel Michael Endres Leadership Award for Individual Excellence in Veteran Employment from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He was awarded Syracuse University’s Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding Achievement in 2010.
Vernon E. Jordan Jr.
Doctor of Laws
A national civil rights leader and public policy advisor for more than 50 years, Jordan has a lifetime of work advocating for social justice and opportunity through educational, civic and economic access and empowerment.
As a young attorney practicing in Arkansas and Georgia, Jordan was at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. A graduate of DePauw University, Jordan then went on to Howard University School of Law, where he was mentored by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. In 1961, he helped organize the integration of the University of Georgia and personally escorted an African American student through a hostile crowd on campus after a federal court ruled that she and another student be allowed to enroll.
Further spurred into action to assist in the Civil Rights Movement, Jordan became the Georgia field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He led boycotts against merchants who refused to hire African Americans and organized a voter drive throughout the South. He was later director of the Voter Education Project of the Southern Regional Council and served as executive director of the United Negro College Fund and served as president and CEO of the National Urban League.
In 1992, Jordan served as chairman of the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Transition Team. He has held several presidential appointments, including the President’s Advisory Committee for the Points of Light Initiative Foundation and the Advisory Council on Social Security.
Jordan is a senior managing director of Lazard Frères & Co. LLC in New York City. There, he works with a diverse group of clients across a broad range of industries. Prior to joining Lazard, Jordan was senior executive partner with the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, where he remains senior counsel.
Recognized for his tireless advocacy, Jordan holds honorary degrees from more than 70 colleges and universities. He is a member of the bars of Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Georgia and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a member of the American Bar Association, the National Bar Association, the Council on Foreign Relations and The Bilderberg Meetings. Jordan is the author of “Vernon Can Read! A Memoir” and “Make It Plain, Standing Up and Speaking Out.”
Doctor of Science
Poor has made an indelible mark worldwide in the field of information—as a scholar, researcher and teacher. A former dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton, Poor is a pioneer in interference suppression and multiuser detection research in wireless systems and in secure and energy-efficient wireless communications. His work in network security is predicted to have substantial impact for decades to come—critical work that affects global communications.
Among his most notable foundational work is his development of powerful signal processing methods for expanding the limits of wireless networks—facilitating the wireless revolution over the past three decades. His more recent work has also focused on social networks and smart grid, which is key to improving the efficiency and security of the distribution of electric power, especially for the integration of renewable energy sources. His work on smart grid has involved detection of bad data attacks, the study of privacy issues, and development of algorithms for state estimation and control of the grid.
His innovative teaching methods and leadership as the founding director of Princeton’s Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education helped create a culture of entrepreneurship, experiential learning and exploration of technology open to all Princeton students. Later, as dean of the engineering school, he oversaw substantial growth in the scale and scope of engineering at the academic institution.
As a teacher and mentor, his graduate-level textbook, “An Introduction to Signal Detection and Estimation,” is regarded as the reference in the field. His undergraduate course, “The Wireless Revolution,” is considered a model for combining the various pieces of wireless communications—its technical, political, economic and social implications—and providing a comprehensive understanding of the field to an interdisciplinary array of students in both engineering and the liberal arts. Another lasting legacy, his former Ph.D. students have gone on to become prominent researchers and teachers following his tutelage.
Backed by numerous research grants and funding, including by the National Science Foundation, Poor is the author of many textbooks and dozens of journal articles. A graduate of Princeton and Auburn University, Poor has held visiting appointments at a number of prestigious universities in the United States and abroad, including Imperial College (London), Stanford University and Harvard University.
Among his awards are the IEEE James H. Mulligan Jr. Education Medal, the IET Ambrose Fleming Medal for Achievement in Communications, the URSI Booker Gold Medal, the AAES John Fritz Medal and the IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, among other memberships and fellowships.
Thomas Porter (Sakokwenionkwas, “the one who wins”)
Doctor of Humane Letters
Porter is a Bear Clan elder of the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne, but his lifelong commitment to preserving Native American traditions and beliefs extends across North America. He has worked tirelessly in the cultural preservation and community education of the Haudenosaunee, the People of the Longhouse—and also in his efforts to educate non-Haudenosaunee members about the long history and cultural traditions of his community.
Founder, spokesperson and spiritual leader of the Mohawk Community of Kanatsiohareke near Fonda, New York, Porter was the sub-chief for the Tehanakarine Chieftainship title of the Mohawk Nation for 21 years (1971-92). He was influential in the founding of the Akwesasne Freedom School, where he was also a director and a teacher, and taught at the Kahnawake Survival School. Porter taught Mohawk language, philosophy and history at both schools. The schools provide the usual coursework but through the lens of a traditional Mohawk worldview and an emphasis on keeping the Mohawk language and traditions alive.
In the 1960s, to revitalize Native traditions, Porter helped organize “White Roots of Peace,” a group of Iroquois Elders who toured the country sharing traditional teachings and encouraging Indians to embrace their respective Native traditions. He continues to lecture about and share the oral traditions of his culture and its stories with people everywhere, while also informing audiences about the challenges facing Native American peoples. He created a program in which college students perform community services at Kanatsiohareke during a one-week residency in return for presentations on indigenous history and philosophy with a Haudenosaunee perspective.
Porter served as secretary for the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs for eight years and as interpreter for 11 years, still helping to assist when needed. He was the Native American consultant for the New York State Penitentiary System and chaplain for all of the Native inmates in the New York State Penal System for 10 years.
The author of several books and pamphlets teaching about Mohawk traditions and spirituality, including “And Grandma Said … Iroquois Teachings as Passed Down by the Oral Tradition,” Porter has received numerous recognitions and awards for his work. These include recognition from Cornell University for his dedication for the protection of Native lifeways; the Twenty-First Gamaliel Chair in Peace and Justice Award, for his work in improving the welfare of the Mohawk nation; the Rothko Chapel Award for commitment to truth and freedom; and an honorary doctor of laws degree from Trent University in Peterborough, Canada.
Carrie Mae Weems
Doctor of Fine Arts
Weems is a force of creativity and innovation, using her extraordinary artistic talents to explore issues of American history, cultural identity, family relationships, class and gender issues, and myriad contemporary issues through powerful imagery and language. Her acclaimed work and storytelling in photography, text, film, video and performance has been shown and is on display throughout the world.
One of her first works, “Family Pictures and Stories,” visions her family’s move from the South to the North, within the larger context of the migration of African Americans in America. Her later bodies of work also deal with complex, difficult subject matters, steeped in history and personal memory. Her works include “Ain’t Jokin’,” the “Colored People Series,” “22 Million Very Tired and Angry People,” “The Kitchen Table Series,” “Thoughts on Marriage,” “From Here I saw What Happened and I Cried” and “The African Series.”
In her 2016 “Grace Notes: Reflections for Now,” she combines text, video and photography, along with music, spoken word and dance, to recognize the nine people killed in a hate crime at their South Carolina church and the many young black men who have lost their lives in this time of escalating violence—asking the viewer to consider the role of grace in the pursuit of democracy.
Weems has also grappled with community issues and finding solutions for them, with such projects as Operation: Activate, an anti-violence public art campaign, and the Institute of Sound and Style, a training program she established in Syracuse that helps students discover their own potential, while earning a stipend, and teaches them about the many opportunities in the arts.
Her work has been shown at solo and group exhibitions at major international museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Frist Center for Visual Art, Nashville; The Cleveland Museum of Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo in Seville, Spain.
Weems’ art can be found in public and private collections around the world, such as in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
A recipient of the MacArthur Fellows Program “Genius Grant” in 2013, Weems has received many honors and awards, including from the prestigious Prix de Rome, the National Endowment for the Arts, the U.S. State Department (Medal of Arts) and the the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (Lifetime Achievement Award), to name a few. She has also been awarded fellowships and residencies, such as a Smithsonian Fellowship, a Light Work Residency, a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellowship and currently the 2017 Park Avenue Armory Residency. She has also received honorary doctorates from Bowdoin College, Colgate University and the School of Visual Arts, among others. Her publications include “Kitchen Table Series,” “Three Decades of Photography,” “Carrie Mae Weems: Constructing History” and “The Hampton Project.”