Bryan Stevenson, a prominent criminal justice reform advocate and New York Times bestselling author, will deliver the address at the University’s 263rd Commencement on May 20 and receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.
A graduate of Harvard’s law school and Kennedy School of Government, Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, that seeks to end mass incarceration and confront racial injustice. Under Stevenson’s leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentences, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. Most recently, Stevenson won a historic Supreme Court verdict, banning life-without-parole prison sentences for juveniles.
Stevenson is a law professor at New York University and the author of Just Mercy, which was named one of Time magazine’s 10 best nonfiction books of 2014. The lawyer and social justice activist has made several appearances on Penn’s campus, most recently in March 2018 when he headed a #FreeMeekMill event that called for the iconoclast Philadelphia rapper’s release from prison.
Along with Stevenson, musician Jon Bon Jovi, animal science professor and autism advocate Temple Grandin, former US senator Richard Lugar, physician and human rights activist Denis Mukwege, landscape architect Laurie Olin, former Penn Nursing professor Neville Strumpf, and astronomer Jill Tarter will receive honorary degrees.