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  • Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients

    A committee of students, faculty, and staff elected to honor these four visionaries at the 2015 Commencement exercises for their contributions to design, social discourse, and global culture, that mirror The New School's core values.

    2015 Commencement Speaker

    Van Jones
    Photo by Peter Yang

    Van Jones

    Van Jones is a CNN political commentator who regularly appears in the network's programming and special political coverage. Mr. Jones has founded and led four not-for-profit organizations working for social and environmental justice: the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which promotes criminal justice reform; Color of Change, which works for racial fairness through its one million members; Green for All, which lifts people out of poverty through green job training and job creation; and Dream Corps Unlimited/Rebuild the Dream, which promotes innovative policy solutions. Dream Corps' two major initiatives are #YesWeCode, which is committed to helping train 100,000 low-opportunity youth to become top-level computer programmers, and #cut50, which is working to reduce the U.S. prison population by half in the next ten years.

    Mr. Jones is the author of two New York Times best-selling books, The Green Collar Economy (2008) and Rebuild the Dream (2012), which chronicles his journey as an environmental and human rights activist to a position as a White House policy advisor. Mr. Jones was the main advocate for the Green Jobs Act, the first piece of federal legislation to codify the term "green jobs," which was signed into law by George W. Bush in 2007. Under the Obama Administration, the legislation has produced $500 million in national funding for green jobs training.

    In 2009, Mr. Jones served as the green jobs advisor to President Barack Obama. In this role, he helped lead the interagency process overseeing the multi-billion-dollar investment in skills training and job development in the environmental and green energy sectors.

    A Yale-educated attorney, Mr. Jones has been honored with numerous awards and spotlighted on several lists of high achievers, including the World Economic Forum's "Young Global Leaders," Rolling Stone's 2012 "12 Leaders Who Get Things Done," Time's 2009 "100 Most Influential People in the World," and The Root's 2014 "The Root 100." He is presently a fellow at the MIT Media Lab.

    Jonathan Rose

    Jonathan Rose

    Jonathan F.P. Rose's business, public policy, and not-for-profit work focuses on fostering environmental, social, and economic resilience in cities. In 1989, he founded Jonathan Rose Companies LLC, a real estate development, planning, and investment firm that has completed more than $1.5 billion of work. In 2005, the firm launched the nation's first green transit–oriented acquisition and redevelopment fund, followed by several green affordable housing and office transformation funds.

    The firm's mission is to repair the fabric of communities. Its work touches many aspects of community health and involves collaborating with cities and not-for-profits to build affordable and mixed-income housing as well as cultural, health and educational infrastructure. The firm has won awards from a wide range of notable organizations, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Urban Land Institute, the American Planning Association, and the American Institute of Architects.

    Mr. Rose is vice chair of Enterprise Community Partners and a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He is an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects and an honorary trustee of the American Museum of Natural History and of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He chaired the Metropolitan Transit Authority's Blue Ribbon Sustainability Commission, which developed the nation's first green transit plan, and served as a commissioner on Governor Cuomo's NYS 2100 Commission, tasked with identifying strategies for building the long-term resilience of New York State's infrastructure following Hurricane Sandy.

    Mr. Rose and his wife are co-founders of the Garrison Institute, an organization that connects inner transformation with solutions to problems relating to trauma, education, and the environment.

    Mr. Rose holds a bachelor's degree from Yale University. He received a Master's in Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania.

    His book on resilient cities, The Well Tempered City, will be published by Harper Collins in spring 2016.

    Cassandra Wilson

    Cassandra WilsonPhoto by Mark Seliger

    Cassandra Wilson is an American jazz musician, vocalist, and songwriter from Jackson, Mississippi. She was described by critic Gary Giddins as "a singer blessed with an unmistakable timbre and attack who has expanded the playing field" by incorporating country, blues, and folk music into her work.

    Known for her remarkable ability to stretch and bend pitches, elongate syllables, and manipulate tone and timbre, Wilson received her first broad critical acclaim in 1988 for her album Blue Skies. Her signing with Blue Note records in 1993 marked a turning point in her career and a major breakthrough to new audiences.

    Not only did Wilson effectively reconnect vocal jazz with its blues roots, she was arguably the first to convincingly combine post–British Invasion pop with jazz, blazing a trail that many have since followed. Wilson has continued interpreting vintage country, blues, and folk music in fresh and creative ways until the present day.

    In 2011, Wilson returned to her home state of Mississippi to establish Ojah Media Group, a forum for emerging and established artists. Joined by her longtime friend and collaborator Rhonda Richmond, Wilson opened The Yellow Scarf, a listening room and performance space.

    Ms. Wilson has received numerous honors, including two Grammys, the Django D'Or, the Edison Music Award, a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail, and the 2012 Echo Award. She has received the Downbeat Readers and Critics award for best jazz vocals many times. Wilson also performed one of the leading roles in Wynton Marsalis' Blood on the Fields, the first jazz work to receive a Pulitzer Prize. In 2000, CNN Time recognized Wilson as America's Best Singer.

    To commemorate Billie Holiday's 100th birthday, Ms. Wilson is releasing Coming Forth by Day: A Tribute to Billie Holiday in April 2015. Ms. Wilson attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University.

    Gaby Pacheco

    Gaby Pacheco

    Gaby Pacheco is a nationally recognized leader of the immigrant rights movement from Miami, Florida. Since 2004, she has gained national attention for her courageous advocacy for the DREAM Act and immigration reform.

    An undocumented immigrant herself, Ms. Pacheco founded the Florida immigrant youth network known as Students Working for Equal Rights as part of the Florida Immigrant Coalition in 2005. Five years later, she and three other undocumented students led the four-month national "Trail of Dreams" campaign, walking from Miami to Washington, DC, to call attention to the plight of immigrant families threatened by deportation and to urge President Obama to end deportations, particularly of DREAM Act–eligible youth. Ms. Pacheco also became the first undocumented Latina to testify in front of Congress.

    In 2015, she was named one of the 30 under 30 in Education by Forbes. She was also recently recognized as one of the Huffington Post's 40 Under 40: Latinos in American Politics.

    Ms. Pacheco serves as the program director for TheDream.US, a national multi-million-dollar scholarship fund for DREAMers that she helped create. She is co-director of the Bridge Project, which seeks to connect individuals from across the political spectrum for the purpose of promoting sensible and workable immigration reform.

    Ms. Pacheco has two associate's degrees and a bachelor's degree in special education from Miami Dade College. She hopes to become a music therapist and work with people with autism and Down syndrome.

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