The New School Honors Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, Internationally Acclaimed Artist Ping Chong, and Literacy Activists José Alberto and Luz Mery Gutierrez with Honorary Degrees at 85th Commencement Exercises

New York, May 5, 2021 -- Ford Foundation President and social justice philanthropist Darren Walker, Internationally acclaimed interdisciplinary artist Ping Chong, and Colombian literacy activists and founders of La Fuerza de las Palabras (The Power of Words) Foundation José Alberto and Luz Mery Gutierrez will receive honorary degrees at The New School’s 85th commencement exercises on Friday, May 14 at 11:30 am.

New School President Dwight A. McBride will preside over the virtual ceremony, which will be streamed live in consideration of the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on our communities.

The university will confer honorary degrees to a trio of socially engaged artists, activists, and philanthropists whose contributions embody the New School ethos. They will be joined by student speakers selected from each the university’s six colleges – Parsons School of Design, Eugene Lang College, Schools of Public Engagement, College of Performing Arts, The New School for Social Research, and Parsons Paris – who will take this joyful moment to address their classmates, as well as a special performance from students from programs across the College of Performing Arts.  This performance features a new arrangement of a classic song to celebrate the graduating class of 2021.

"The New School continues to evolve to meet the challenges of the global economy, preparing students as scholars, global citizens and changemakers,” said President McBride. “We are thrilled to honor Darren Walker, Ping Chong, and José Alberto and Luz Mery Gutierrez — inspiring individuals who, through their social activism, creative vision, and public service, have worked to address pressing social issues and challenge the status quo in ways that well represent the values of The New School.”

The honorary degree recipients are:

  • Ping Chong is an internationally acclaimed interdisciplinary artist who has created over 100 original works for the stage in New York City, and around the world since 1975. He is the founder of Ping Chong and Company, whose work centers innovation, collaboration, and community engagement, and amplifies underrepresented voices.  In 1992, Chong created the first Undesirable Elements production in an ongoing series of community-based oral history projects exploring culture and identity. Ping Chong is the recipient of two BESSIE awards, two OBIE awards, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellowship, and the 2014 National Medal of Arts. 

  • Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, a $13 billion international social justice philanthropy. Responding to the current global pandemic, Walker led the Ford Foundation to become the first non-profit in US history to issue a $1 billion designated social bond in US capital markets for proceeds to strengthen and stabilize non-profit organizations in the wake of COVID-19. He has served on several commissions and boards including the Reimagining New York Commission, Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, the UN International Labour Organization Global Commission on the Future of Work, he Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. He co-founded both the US Impact Investing Alliance and the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy and chaired the philanthropy committee that brought a resolution to the city of Detroit’s historic bankruptcy. Educated exclusively in public schools, Walker was a member of the first Head Start class in 1965.

  • Community activists José Alberto and Luz Mery Gutierrez have promoted literacy in their home country of Colombia, book by book. José Alberto was a Bogota garbage collector with limited formal education when he was inspired by a discarded copy of Anna Karenina he found along his route to begin collecting discarded books and making them available to local children. He and Luz Mery started running informal libraries—first out of their home and then in nearby communities—which grew into La Fuerza de las Palabras (The Power of Words) Foundation. Over the past 25 years, the Foundation has distributed 50,000 books in 25 community libraries. José Alberto has delivered books along the "Macondo Route" of Gabriel García Márquez; delivered books to demobilized members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC–EP), accompanied by the UN following the historic 2016 cease-fire agreement; and with the Colombian National Army, he distributed books to towns on the Magdalena River.

The student speakers are:

  • Sunghyun “Julie” Ahn (Parsons School of Design) is receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communication design and a minor in data visualization at Parsons. This fall, she will be joining Apple in Silicon Valley as a UX designer. Her career passions lie in learning about the intersection of state-of-the-art technologies with UX design for exploring human-computer interaction. Julie is interested in bridging business, tech, and users to solve complex world problems.

  • Kayla Miller (College of Performing Arts) is a graduating student in The New School's Arts Management and Entrepreneurship graduate program looking for ways to combine her love and training in the arts with her passion towards social justice and change. Born out of her capstone project, she is the creator/editor/writer of The Zero Waste Comic - a magazine that helps inspire people to live a more eco-conscious life. Kayla earned her undergraduate degree from Marymount Manhattan College’s Musical Theatre program.

  • Nicholas Fiori (The New School for Social Research) completed his Ph.D. in Politics in December 2020. His dissertation—Black Machines: Race & Entropy in the Making of Technological Modernity—traces the relays between anti-Blackness, plantation slavery, thermal physics, and the cybernetic age. The interdisciplinary approach of his work and its commitment to social justice is informed by Nick’s connection to the diversity of intellectual communities at The New School. Nick served as coordinator and coach of the Eugene Lang Debate Team, and in 2016 he organized the Genres of Speculation Symposium, which brought high school and college debaters from across the country to The New School and put them in conversation with leading scholars in Black Studies. Nick earned the Alshult Award, a Dissertation Fellowship, and was a 2018-2019 fellow in the Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography, and Thought (GIDEST). In 2019-2020, Nick served as the Program Assistant for GIDEST and taught at the Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies and Global Studies at Lang.

  • Haya Hadad (Schools of Public Engagement) is graduating from the International Affairs program with a double concentration on development, governance and rights. She is a skilled international youth leader and advocate with experience working on issues of human rights, economic justice, women empowerment and education development. In addition, Haya is a Fulbright scholar, recipient of many prestigious youth awards, and an op-ed writer in three languages. Belonging to multiple minorities as a Christian Palestinian citizen of Israel, Haya has a challenging life and distinguished identity. She has been empowering her community through volunteering and civic engagement since she was 12 years old. Haya finished her B.A. in political science and English literature at Tel Aviv University, where she changed one of the most racial policies that banned Arab students from speaking their mother tongue at the admission center. She is currently writing her academic thesis about the many meanings of equal education through the capability approach with the Arab education system in Israel as her case study.

  • Olufunmilayo “Funmi” Tejuoso (Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts) is an American born-Nigerian raised student who majored in Global Studies and minored in Fashion Communications and French Studies. During her time at The New School, she took on various roles, including orientation leader, which gave her first-hand experience working collaboratively with other people to create impactful solutions for new students. This role, along with her passion for helping others, informed her decision to become a consultant after graduation. 

  • Jingxin Wang (Parsons Paris), born and raised in Shanghai, China, studied advertising at Boston University, then worked and lived in New York. She later moved to Paris to pursue her MA in Fashion Studies at Parson Paris. Through traveling and living all over the world, Jingxin constantly learns about different cultures and different ways of thinking. She considers herself a global citizen and a feminist. 

The New School’s Class of 2021 is made up of more than 2,000 associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral graduates in art and design, the social sciences, the humanities, management, and the performing arts.

Founded in 1919, The New School was established to advance academic freedom, tolerance, and experimentation. A century later, The New School remains at the forefront of innovation in higher education, inspiring approximately 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students to challenge the status quo in design and the social sciences, liberal arts, management, the arts, and media. The university welcomes thousands of adult learners annually for continuing education courses and public programs that encourage open discourse and social engagement. Through our online learning portals, research institutes, and international partnerships, The New School maintains a global presence.




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Media Contacts:

The New School
Merrie Snead
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