Inspiring Commencement Speakers, Honorary Degree Recipients

We were proud to bestow honorary degrees on our two commencement speakers this year, each a highly successful entrepreneur, each a creative genius, and each an inspiration to our graduates.

Bobbi Brown spoke at our morning ceremony to our Schools of Business& Technology and Liberal Arts students–recounting her own struggle to find a foothold in her pursuit of success. When, after college, she came to New York to shape a career as a make-up artist, no doors automatically opened for her. She became fearless…knocking on doors…making cold calls…picking up advice wherever she could…and supporting herself as a waitress. It took seven months to get her first “real” job as an assistant at Glamour magazine and a full seven years to get her dream job–as the make-up artist for a Vogue cover. She recalled with fondness how kind the photographer Bruce Weber was to her on that first assignment and how important his kindness was to her at that time. So be nice, she told the students. “Be nice to yourself and to others.” She closed her remarks with some motherly advice: don’t smoke; wear your seat belts, keep your Instagrams and Facebook clean (“we are watching”)–and thank your parents. The audience cheered.

Christian Louboutin was our afternoon speaker. Looking dashing in his cap, gown and red-soled slippers, he was greeted by the Art & Design and Graduate School students with a roar.

Like Bobbi Brown, he drew from his own experience to give advice to the students. When he opened his business in Paris in late 1991, he was told that this was a “super stupid” time to start a business: there was the Gulf war…the global economy was terrible. “But you must listen to your inner clock,” he said, and went ahead. He was told to never work with friends or they will end up being your enemies. That was 23 years ago. Today, the two friends with whom he started his business remain not only in business with him, but his best friends. He also emphasized how important freedom is to him. With an impish smile, he told the students that just looking at his passport makes him happy–it symbolizes the freedom he feels to travel whenever and wherever he likes. But freedom for Mr. Louboutin really translates into owning his own company and answering only to himself. For him, this is essential. Everyone should live by their own set of rules. And finally, he advised, “Enjoy the process of every day. It is the journey of all of the every days that will comprise your career.”