Introducing the 2023 Commencement Speakers

2023 Honorary Degree Recipients

Tania León

Tania León, a Pulitzer Prize winning composer, and highly-regarded conductor, educator, and advisor to arts organizations, will receive an honorary doctorate degree and address the NJCU Class of 2023.

The Cuban-born Pulitzer Prize winner was the keynote speaker at NJCU’s Women’s HerStory Month opening ceremony event in March 2023, as part of Women’s History Month.

Tania Leon

Her orchestral work Stride, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music. In 2022, she was named a recipient of the 45th Annual Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievements and earlier this year, she was awarded the Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition from Northwestern University. Most recently, León became the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s next Composer-in-Residence—a post she will hold for two seasons, beginning in September 2023. She will also hold Carnegie Hall’s Richard and Barbara Debs Composer’s Chair for its 2023-2024 season.

Recent premieres include works for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, NDR Symphony Orchestra, Grossman Ensemble, International Contemporary Ensemble, Modern Ensemble, Jennifer Koh’s project Alone Together, and The Curtis Institute. Appearances as guest conductor include Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille, Gewandhausorchester, Orquesta Sinfónica de Guanajuato, and Orquesta Sinfónica de Cuba. Upcoming commissions feature a work for the League of American Orchestras, and a work for Claire Chase, flute, and The Crossing Choir with text by Rita Dove.

A founding member and first Music Director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, León instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series, co-founded the American Composers Orchestra’s Sonidos de las Américas Festivals, was New Music Advisor to the New York Philharmonic, and is the founder/Artistic Director of Composers Now, a presenting, commissioning and advocacy organization for living composers.

In addition to the aforementioned honors she has received since 2021, León is also a recipient of the New York Governor’s Lifetime Achievement, was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has garnered fellowship awards from ASCAP Victor Herbert Award and The Koussevitzky Music and Guggenheim Foundations, among others. She also received a proclamation for Composers Now by New York City Mayor, and the MadWoman Festival Award in Music (Spain).

Born in Havana, Cuba, León has received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Colgate University, Oberlin, SUNY Purchase College, and The Curtis Institute of Music, and served as U.S. Artistic Ambassador of American Culture in Madrid, Spain. A CUNY Professor Emerita, she was awarded a 2018 United States Artists Fellowship, Chamber Music America’s 2022 National Service Award, and Harvard University’s 2022 Luise Vosgerchian Teaching Award. In 2023, Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired Tania’s León’s archive.

Ryan P. Haygood

Ryan P. Haygood, the President and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, will receive an honorary doctorate degree and address the NJCU Class of 2023. Haygood is a nationally respected civil rights lawyer. He leads a team of advocates who harness community engagement, research, writing, public education, policy and litigation to build reparative systems that create wealth, justice and power for Black, brown and other people of color.

Ryan P. Haygood

Under his leadership, the Institute’s advocacy has become a model for states as places to build community power from the ground up. Haygood speaks and writes regularly on issues concerning race, law, social justice, democracy and power.

Haygood and his team successfully championed the restoration of the vote to 83,000 people on probation and parole, a right denied since 1844; the establishment of online voter registration and early voting; and the end to prison-based gerrymandering. He also led the Institute’s litigation efforts to defeat the Trump campaign’s challenge to New Jersey’s voting accommodations during the COVID pandemic and to ensure that voters’ ballots would not be rejected for signature mismatch reasons.

Under Ryan’s leadership, the Institute has also become a leader on New Jersey’s racial wealth gap, publishing original racial wealth data and championing policies to close the state’s vast wealth disparities, including the $15 minimum wage. He oversees the Institute’s advocacy to expand homeownership opportunities; establish fair appraisal policies; and cancel student loan debt – as well as the Institute’s first-of-its-kind Say the Word: Reparations campaign for a state reparations task force.

Haygood has also led the Institute to the forefront of creating solutions to reduce the footprint of law enforcement and help keep communities safe.

Following Darnella Frazier’s courageous recording of George Floyd’s murder, the Institute championed the call for a statewide First Amendment policy to protect the right to record police conduct without intimidation, a policy subsequently established by the Attorney General. The Institute’s advocacy also led to the historic closure announcement for two of New Jersey’s youth prisons and an $8.4 million investment in youth restorative justice hubs in communities most impacted by youth incarceration.

Haygood has also spearheaded the Institute’s membership on the Independent Monitoring Team overseeing the Newark Police Division’s Consent Decree with the Department of Justice. In that role, the Institute centered community engagement in the development of 16 new policies designed to bring about the transformation in policing that Newark residents have urged since the 1967 Newark Rebellion. The Institute and partners also championed the passage of an independent prosecutor bill to address police misconduct.

Prior to leading the Institute, Ryan served as Deputy Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), where he worked for more than a decade and litigated some of the most important civil rights cases of our time. In two of those cases, he defended a core provision of the Voting Rights Act before the United States Supreme Court. He also led LDF’s successful challenge to Texas’ racially discriminatory photo ID law, leading to the first ruling of its kind when a federal district court struck down Texas’ photo ID law as intentionally racially discriminatory, a violation of the Voting Rights Act and an unconstitutional poll tax.

Ryan received his J.D. from the University of Colorado School of Law and B.A. in American History and Political Science cum laude from Colorado College in 1997, where he was nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship and earned academic and athletic All-American and hall of fame honors as a football player. He is a Trustee and Vice-Chair of the Board of Colorado College and a member of the Board of Directors of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.