Community organizer Ernesto J. Cortés Jr., stem cell research advocate/educator Brooke Mackenzie Ellison, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison and legal scholar Elizabeth Warren to be honored at May ceremonies

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – One of America’s most effective community organizers, a dedicated and articulate stem cell research advocate and a renowned legal scholar will join a Nobel Laureate as recipients of honorary degrees at Rutgers’ 245th anniversary Commencement.

Rutgers will award honorary degrees to Ernesto J. Cortés Jr., co-director of the national nonprofit Industrial Areas Foundation (Doctor of Laws); Brooke Mackenzie Ellison, passionate advocate for stem cell research, author and educator (Doctor of Humane Letters); Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, one of the most influential writers in American literary history and Commencement speaker (Doctor of Letters); and the Honorable Elizabeth Warren, Harvard University professor, assistant to President Obama and special adviser to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (Doctor of Laws). Warren will speak at Rutgers School of Law-Newark's convocation Friday, May 27. 

Ernesto J. Cortés Jr.
Cortés is among the most dedicated and effective community organizers in the nation. He is co-director of the national nonprofit Industrial Areas Foundation and for more than 30 years, regional director for the IAF in the West/Southwest, which comprises 30 organizations from Mississippi to San Francisco. The organization empowers multiethnic groups through more than 900 faith-based institutions, civic groups, schools and trade unions by helping them to improve their neighborhoods and their lives by reorganizing the relationships of power and politics in their communities.  

Cortés, a graduate of Texas A&M University, conducted post-graduate work at the University of Texas, where as a student activist, he organized a statewide support group for the farm workers union. He trained under legendary community organizer and IAF founder Saul Alinsky in 1972, and two years later, established Communities Organized for Public Service, a church-based grassroots organization in San Antonio.

Through political but nonpartisan action, West/Southwest IAF organizations have built better schools and improved learning, provided job training and access to better jobs, tackled immigration issues and had positive impact in such other important areas as health care and economic development. Widely honored for his accomplishments, in 1984 Cortés was one of the earliest recipients of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of many distinguished panels, commissions and boards.

Ellison’s unique and inspirational life has been widely covered in major media. Although paralyzed from the neck down and

Brooke Mackenzie Ellison
dependent on a ventilator since she was hit by a car at 11, Ellison is an accomplished and respected public speaker, educator, author and consultant producer of two motion pictures. She is also one of the nation’s most knowledgeable and articulate spokespersons in the area of stem cell research.

After nearly a year of hospitalization, Ellison returned home and focused on her education, and in 2000, 10 years later, she graduated magna cum laude from Harvard with a degree in cognitive neuroscience. She later earned a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In 2002, she and her mother published the Brooke Ellison Story documenting the family’s experiences from the accident through Harvard graduation. In 2007, she founded and became president of The Brooke Ellison Project, which works to promote the awareness, potential, acceptance and support of stem cell research. Her advocacy has led to gubernatorial appointments to the New York State Spinal Cord Injury Research Board and the Ethics Committee of the Empire State Stem Cell Research Board.

Ellison is a doctoral student in sociology at Stony Brook University and is on the faculty at the university’s Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics. She has given generously of her time in advocacy on behalf of the work of the W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience at Rutgers. 

Toni Morrison
Morrison will be keynote speaker at Rutgers’ universitywide graduation ceremony at Rutgers stadium in Piscataway. In 1993, she became the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Rutgers Board of Governors had previously announced her selection.

Morrison's nine major novels - The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, Beloved, Jazz, Paradise, Love and A Mercy - have earned extensive critical acclaim. She received the National Book Critics Award in 1978 for Song of Solomon and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Beloved. Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, emerita, at Princeton University. She was appointed to the position in 1989 and held the post until 2006. Prior to her appointment at Princeton, Morrison was the Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities, College of the Humanities and Fine Arts, State University of New York at Albany, and a senior editor at Random House for 20 years. She taught at Rutgers in 1983-84.

Warren is a renowned authority in the fields of bankruptcy, contract and commercial law and a leading academic consumer advocate on banking issues. She is the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard. Warren has testified before Congress on behalf of American families, chaired the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and served as chief adviser to the National Bankruptcy Review Commission.

For the past two years, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and the National

Elizabeth Warren
Law Journal called her one of the 50 most influential women attorneys in America. A distinguished alumna of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark (1976), where she was an editor of the Rutgers Law Review, Warren has taught at her alma mater, as well as the University of Houston (where she a earned a bachelor’s degree), University of Texas and University of Pennsylvania schools of law.

Warren is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been principal investigator on many studies funded by the National Science Foundation and more than a dozen foundations. She has written nine books, including national best-sellers, and more than 100 scholarly articles about credit and economic stress. Her academic books on bankruptcy and debtor/credit law are widely used in American law schools.


Media Contact: Steve Manas
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