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Commencement 2015

Commencement Speaker

Darren Walker
Darren Walker
President, Ford Foundation

Darren Walker, president of the prestigious Ford Foundation and longtime social justice leader, will deliver the keynote address at the 132nd Spring Commencement of The University of Texas at Austin.

A proud Texas Ex, Mr. Walker earned three degrees from The University of Texas at Austin including a B.A. in government from the College of Liberal Arts and a B.S. in speech communication from the now Moody College of Communication, both which were awarded in 1982, and a doctorate in jurisprudence awarded in 1986 from the School of Law. In 2009, Mr. Walker was named by the Texas Exes as recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award, the highest honor bestowed by the university’s alumni association.

The Ford Foundation is the second largest philanthropic organization in the United States. As the Foundation’s highest-ranking officer, Mr. Walker oversees more than $12 billion in assets, $500 million in grants and foundation offices in the United States, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Central America and South America.

In announcing Mr. Walker as the 2015 Commencement Speaker, President Bill Powers stated: “Darren is an inspirational alumnus whose life embodies the ideals we as a university strive to teach. I’m delighted that our graduates will be getting the benefit of his deep wisdom.”

In responding to the announcement, Mr. Walker remarked: “It is a tremendous honor to address the remarkable students of the Class of 2015 at The University of Texas at Austin. I may live in New York City, but my heart will always belong in Texas. This is an exciting moment for these soon-to-be graduates as they set out, with fresh degrees in hand, to tackle the numerous and complex challenges our society faces. I am buoyed by optimism for their future and I look forward to celebrating this grand achievement with my fellow Longhorns.”

Darren was born in a charity hospital in Louisiana and raised by a single mother in rural Texas. He was a member of Head Start’s inaugural class in 1965 and attended public school in Goose Creek, Texas. At The University of Texas, Pell Grants and scholarships helped finance his college and law school education. Both theHead Start and Pell Grant programs were seeded and championed by the Ford Foundation, the same institution he leads today.

After receiving his Law degree, Mr. Walker spent almost a decade in corporate law and international finance, first working with the international law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, and in 1988, with the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS). After volunteering for a year with The Children’s Storefront, an elementary school serving low-income families in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, he joined the Abyssinian Development Corporation, the largest community development organization in Harlem. As chief operating officer at Abyssinian, Mr. Walker led efforts to develop over 1,000 units of housing for low and moderate income families, was involved in two of Harlem’s largest privately financed commercial projects in 30 years and oversaw the development of the first public school built by a community organization in New York City.

Mr. Walker later joined the Rockefeller Foundation, where he rose to the position of vice president and oversaw all domestic and international programs. Among other duties, he initiated new programming in urban development and arts and culture, and he led the foundation’s post-Katrina New Orleans Recovery Program.

In 2010, he joined the Ford Foundation as a vice president responsible for education, creativity, and free expression programs. He shaped more than $140 million in annual grant making around the world, covering areas as diverse as media and journalism, arts and culture, sexuality and reproductive health and rights, educational access and opportunity, and religion.

In 2013, Walker was named the 10th president of the Ford Foundation.

A November 2014 article in the New York Times credits Mr. Walker with having “recently played a critical role in saving Detroit’s pensions and art collection in the city’s bankruptcy proceedings.” The quote is a reference to Mr. Walker’s involvement in “the grand bargain,” an unprecedented collective of support from multiple philanthropic foundations, the State of Michigan and the Detroit Institute of Arts, uniting in an innovative, $816 million arrangement that allowed the city’s art collection to remain intact rather than being sold off to cover the city’s debt.

Walker is a board member of the Arcus Foundation, the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Friends of the High Line, the New York City Ballet and the Independent Sector. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.