Contact Us

Acclaimed Filmmaker Ken Burns to Receive Honorary Degree and to Deliver Address at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus Commencement

Songwriters/Performers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, and Biographer and Journalist Ron Chernow also to be recognized at May 14, 2009 Ceremonies


Office of Public Relations
Brooklyn Campus,
Long Island University

Filmmaker and Brooklyn Campus commencement speaker Ken Burns - Photo Credit: Cable RisdonBrooklyn, N.Y. - On May 14, 2009, Ken Burns, the filmmaker behind some of the most highly acclaimed historical documentaries of our time, will receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree during Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus commencement exercises. As the commencement speaker, Mr. Burns, a native of Brooklyn, will address an audience that includes nearly 1,900 graduating students, many of whom have been inspired by his comprehensive body of work. Music-industry giants Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson will receive honorary Doctor of Music degrees and award-winning biographer and journalist Ron Chernow will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.

University President David J. Steinberg will confer 980 undergraduate degrees, 89 advanced certificates, 728 graduate degrees and 73 doctoral degrees during the commencement ceremony at which Ukranian-born Larysa Doudla, 27, will be recognized as the valedictorian. Ms. Doudla, who immigrated to the United States six years ago, will receive an undergraduate degree in finance and management. She remains optimistic about her career path despite the tumultuous economic environment. “I see the reality of today’s economy, however, I understand the potential of how bright minds can make things better,” she asserted.

“Ms. Doudla is a wonderful representative of the students who are graduating from the Brooklyn Campus. Many of them are first-generation Americans and first-generation college graduates who have overcome a multitude of obstacles to earn their degrees and to go on and make the world a better place,” said Gale Stevens Haynes, provost of Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus.

“To that end, this year’s commencement exercises also feature an outstanding array of honorary degree recipients who have developed their talents and have used them to enrich the lives and to enlighten the minds of countless thousands,” she added.

Honorary degree recipient Ken Burns is a co-founder of Florentine Films. Mr. Burns first achieved prominence as director of the Academy Award-nominated film “Brooklyn Bridge.” He received a second Academy Award nomination for “Statue of Liberty,” but is perhaps best known for his television work, including the landmark series “The Civil War,” for which he served as director, producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director and executive producer. First broadcast by PBS in 1990, it commanded an audience of 40 million, and it remains the highest-rated series in the history of American public television. After this success, he went on to serve as director, producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director and executive producer of “Baseball.” Four-and-a-half years in the making and 18½ hours in length, it became the most-watched series in PBS history, attracting more than 45 million viewers. In January 2001, he premiered his third epic documentary, “Jazz.” Broadcast on PBS, this 19-hour, 10-part film garnered rave reviews. Among those whose praise it won was Tom Brokaw, who characterized it as “a masterpiece of American television.”

Honorary degree recipient Ron Chernow earned degrees in English with highest honors from Yale University and from Cambridge University. Mr. Chernow began his career as a freelance journalist, publishing over 60 articles in national newspapers and magazines, including 13 cover stories. In 1983, he became director of financial policy studies at the Twentieth Century Fund, a New York-based think tank. After leaving the Fund in 1986, he refocused his energies on writing. His first book, “The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance,” won the National Book Award in 1990 and is considered a modern classic. His next effort, “The Warburgs: The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family,” won the George S. Eccles Prize for the best business book of 1993 and was cited by the American Library Association as one of the year’s 10 best works. In 1998, he published “Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr.,” which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award and remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for 16 weeks. Both The Times and Time magazine named it one of the 10 best books of the year. In 2004, his much-anticipated biography of Alexander Hamilton was a critical success and earned him a George Washington Book Prize. It remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for three months. In addition to his acclaimed work in biography and nonfiction, Mr. Chernow continues to contribute articles to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among other top publications. A much sought-after commentator on business, politics and finance, he is a frequent guest on national radio and television shows, and has appeared as an expert in documentary films.

Honorary degree recipients Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson are award-winning songwriters and performers and are among the most respected and prolific couples in contemporary music. They sold their first batch of songs for just $75 and had their big breakthrough in 1966 when Ray Charles scored a major hit with their composition “Let's Go Get Stoned.” They later signed with Motown Records, where they penned the classic Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell hits “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Your Precious Love,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “You’re All I Need to Get By” and “Good Lovin' Ain't Easy to Come By.” When they joined Warner Bros. Records in the early '70s, Ashford & Simpson fully realized their artistic vision. From 1973-1981, they released nine albums, yielding hits like “Send It,” “Don’t Cost You Nothin',” “It Seems to Hang On” and “Love Don't Make It Right.” After a move to Capitol Records in 1982, the hit-making continued with “Street Corner”; “Highrise”; “I’ll Be There for You”; and “Solid,” which topped the R&B chart in 1984 and crossed over to No. 12 on the pop singles chart. In 1996, they formed their own label, Hopsack & Silk, and released “Been Found,” an acclaimed music/poetry album in collaboration with Maya Angelou. In 2002, they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In January 2009, the duo released “Ashford & Simpson: The Real Thing” on CD and DVD. They are currently working on a Broadway-bound musical adaptation of E. Lynn Harris' novel “Invisible Life” and will embark upon a U.S. tour later this year.

In addition to the aforementioned honorary degrees, distinguished alumni awards will be presented to two highly accomplished Brooklyn Campus graduates, Lorna E. Davis-Robinson '94 (M.S.), director, New York City Asthma Initiative, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; and Daniel B. Fisher '67, retired secretary-treasurer, Fisher Brothers Manufacturing Jewelers.

James Pratzon, an English language arts teacher at Lyons Community School in Brooklyn, will be recognized as the New York City Secondary School Teacher of the Year. Whitney Collins-Cephers, a journalism major in the Campus' Honors Program, will be recognized as the salutatorian.

The commencement ceremony will take place on Thursday, May 14, 2009 at 10:15 a.m. on the Campus athletic field near Flatbush and DeKalb Avenues in downtown Brooklyn, N.Y. It will be followed by the traditional Campus celebration of a commencement barbeque that is open to graduates, their family members and friends.

Posted 04/30/2009

  Return to Press Releases