Vernon Jordan to Serve as CUSSW Commencement Speaker

Vernon Jordan, courtesy DePauw U

The Columbia University School of Social Work announced today that Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., will serve as speaker for its commencement ceremony Wednesday, May 22, 2013, at 2:00 p.m. in the Beacon Theatre, on Broadway and 72nd Street.

”Vernon Jordan is an icon for his leadership in a number of sectors, including civil rights and business, and was also one of President Clinton’s closest advisors,” said Dean Jeanette C. Takamura. “We are extremely honored to have him as the speaker at our 2013 graduation.”

Dean Takamura recently served with Mr. Jordan on a panel following a special screening of a new documentary on the life of Whitney Young, held at the Ford Foundation in February.

“Vernon Jordan succeeded Whitney Young in the leadership of the National Urban League,” Dean Takamura said. She went on:

Both men are regarded uniformly as power brokers with the ability to exert broad influence and bring about much good through their work in corporate America and in poor neighborhoods alike. They worked skillfully with contradictions: "both and" instead of "either or," without demonizing different sectors of society.

In his early career, Jordan played an important role in the civil rights movement, heading the United Negro College Fund in the 1960s and serving as president of the National Urban League for nearly ten years, following the death of Whitney Young.

Jordan’s contributions to the League were primarily in the building of organizational strength and infrastructure. For instance, he was instrumental in expanding its social service component and in introducing one of the early citizen education efforts to get out the African American vote. He also introduced employment and other programs, including one for women of color.

After being seriously wounded by a white supremacist sniper in 1980, Jordan changed career direction, from civil rights to law and politics. He became a partner in the Washington law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauser & Feld and led President Bill Clinton's transition team.

During the Clinton years, Jordan not only played an important role in that administration but became a key adviser in the Democratic Party. Now a senior managing director of Lazard Freres and Co., an investment banking firm, he is viewed as an influential spokesman in the business world, serving on the corporate boards of such institutions as American Express, J.C. Penney and Dow Jones. He was a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

But it is his connection to the National Urban League that has captured the imagination of the CUSSW community. “The National Urban League has roots that trace back to the School,” explained Dean Takamura. “The idea for its creation developed within a class that Dean Edward Devine, who served on its board, taught. Professor Edwin Seligman, McVickar Professor of Political Economics, whose entire academic career was spent at Columbia, was also on the first board. Dr. George Haynes, an African American student, ran with the idea and was instrumental in assuring the Urban League's success. Parenthetically, Haynes was the first African American to receive a doctorate from Columbia and paved the way for many others to enter and graduate from Columbia University.”

Related link:

In New Documentary, Whitney Young Speaks to Social Workers of Today

Img: Courtesy of DePauw University, where Jordan earned his B.A.