SP2 Commencement Speaker

DeRay Mckesson

DeRay McKesson

The 2019 School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) Graduation Commencement address will be given by civil rights activist and host of Pod Save the People, DeRay Mckesson.

A leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, Mr. Mckesson’s activism focuses on the issues of innovation, equity, and justice. He has advocated for issues related to children, youth, and families; worked to connect individuals with knowledge and tools; and provided citizens and policymakers with commonsense policies to ensure quality.

His podcast – Pod Save the People – focuses on important current issues facing our country, ensuring that individuals have the information they need to be thoughtful activists, organizers, and citizens.

In addition to his leadership in the Black Lives Matter movement and producing his weekly podcast, Mr. Mckesson has cofounded numerous social justice organizations such as JoinCampaignZero.org, MappingPoliceViolence.com,OurStates.org and the ResistanceManual.org.

His experience and story will inspire our graduates in their pursuit of social innovation, impact, and justice long after they have graduated, and we are truly honored to welcome him to SP2. His body of work has led to him being named one of the world’s greatest leaders by Fortune Magazine (2015) and as one of the most influential people on the internet by Time Magazine (2016).

University of Pennsylvania Commencement Speaker

Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, and a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned. A graduate of the Harvard Law School and the Harvard School of Government, he is a Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law. Under Mr. Stevenson’s leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. Mr. Stevenson has successfully argued several cases in the United States Supreme Court, including a recent historic ruling banning mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger.

Mr. Stevenson is the author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy, which received the NAACP Image Award and was named by Time magazine as one of the 10 best nonfiction books for 2014.

Mr. Stevenson’s work fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system has won him numerous awards including the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Award Prize, the Olof Palme International Prize, the ACLU National Medal of Liberty, and the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award. In 2016, Mr. Stevenson received the American Bar Association’s Thurgood Marshall Award, and in 2018, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize from The King Center in Atlanta. He has also received the American Bar Association Medal, the Association’s highest honor.

In 2018, EJI opened The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. Built on the site of a former warehouse where black people were enslaved in downtown Montgomery, the museum examines America’s history of racial injustice and its legacy. EJI has also established the only national memorial acknowledging the victims of racial terror lynchings, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Past SP2 Commencement Speakers


Tarana Burke
Social Justice Advocate and Founder of the “Me Too” Movement


Tamron Hall
Award-winning Journalist


Ari Shapiro
Host of NPR’s All Things Considered & Award-Winning Journalist


Benjamin Jealous
Former President and CEO of the NAACP


Nikki Giovanni
World-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator


Sister Mary Scullion
President and Executive Director, Project H.O.M.E.


Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy
Former United States Representative for Rhode Island


Ambassador Andrew Young
Former United Nations Ambassador and Mayor of Atlanta


Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Vice President of the United States

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