Former Starbucks Exec, World-Renowned Geophysicist to speak at MSU Commencement

MSU spring commencement speakers Wanda Herndon and Marcia McNutt

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Wanda Herndon, who was instrumental in building the Starbucks global brand, and Marcia McNutt, the 22nd president of the National Academy of Sciences, will speak at Michigan State University’s commencement ceremonies on May 4.

Herndon will speak at the undergraduate convocation, which will take place at 1 p.m. at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center, 534 Birch Road. She will receive an honorary doctorate of humanities.

The convocation will be live streamed and can be watched via MSU’s commencement website.

McNutt will speak at the advanced degree ceremony, which will take place at 3:30 p.m., also at Breslin. She will receive an honorary doctorate of science. The advanced degree ceremony also will be live streamed.

Also at the convocation, Bethany Beardslee, an American soprano, will receive an honorary doctorate of fine arts. And Albie Sachs, a judge and human rights activist, will receive an honorary doctorate of laws.

At the advanced degree ceremony, Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank Group, will receive an honorary doctorate of agriculture.

“When I inquired about our commencement speakers, I was informed that we are fortunate this year to have two inspirational women, leaders in their own respective fields, as our speakers,” said MSU Interim President John Engler. “Graduation ceremonies are motivational opportunities to send our Spartans out into the world to make positive impacts. I’m confident the experiences, values and advice from Dr. McNutt and Ms. Herndon will send our graduates off to pursue their own inspirational adventures.”

Tickets are not required for either of the free public events. Twitter users may follow both ceremonies using #msugrad18.

No bags or purses are allowed in the Breslin Center. Metal detectors will be at all entrances; please plan accordingly for lines into the facility.

No food or beverages – including bottled water – will be allowed into Breslin Center, and this applies to graduates, guests and faculty participating in the ceremonies. As such, Breslin will offer a limited menu of concessions for sale one hour before the start of ceremonies and during the first hour of ceremonies. Additional prohibited items include, noisemakers, sticks, pets, signs or weapons of any form. Smoking also is prohibited at the Breslin Center.

Parking in the Breslin Center area is very limited, so the public is encouraged to use the free shuttle service. Buses are accessible.

Bios of the speakers and honorary degree recipients follow.


Herndon was the first senior vice president of global communications for Starbucks Coffee Co.

She retired from the company in 2006 and returned in 2008 to lead communications once again when Howard Schultz, executive chairman, asked her to help transform the company.

As CEO of her own company, W Communications, Herndon provides strategic communications counsel for several clients that includes: strategy development and execution in the areas of brand management, corporate reputation management, public relations, media relations, issues management and other areas.

For most of her 40-plus-year career, Herndon has led communications, public relations and marketing for leading brands and Fortune 500 companies, including DuPont and Dow Chemical.

Herndon was named one of the top 12 African-Americans in public relations by PR Week. She has been featured in numerous publications including Time and Essence magazines.

She has produced Tony Award-winning Broadway musical productions, including “Come From Away,” that is currently on Broadway, and had ownership shares in two NBA and WNBA professional basketball teams.

A two-time MSU alumna, Herndon holds a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in journalism. In 2004, she established the Wanda J. Herndon Endowed Journalism Scholarship at MSU. And she currently sits on the College of Communication Arts and Sciences’ Alumni Board of Directors.

Herndon has received numerous awards from MSU, including the Distinguished Alumni Award.


A geophysicist, McNutt served as editor-in-chief of the Science journals from 2013 to 2016.

Prior to joining Science, she was director of the U.S. Geological Survey from 2009 to 2013. Under her leadership, the USGS responded to a number of major disasters, including earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and Japan. She received the U.S. Coast Guard’s Meritorious Service Medal for leading a team of government scientists and engineers at BP headquarters in Houston to help contain the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Before joining the USGS, McNutt served as president and chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California.

McNutt’s academic career began at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics and directed the Joint Program in Oceanography/Applied Ocean Science and Engineering. She is a veteran of more than a dozen deep-sea expeditions.

McNutt has earned numerous awards for her work, including American Geophysical Union’s Macelwane Medal and the Maurice Ewing Medal. She holds honorary degrees from multiple universities and she is a fellow of the AGU, the Geological Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Association of Geodesy.

McNutt earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Colorado College and a doctoral degree in earth sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.


Adesina was elected president of the African Development Bank Group in 2015.

He previously served as Nigeria’s minister of agriculture and rural development. During his tenure, he established transformative agriculture policies and empowered millions of rural farmers through the introduction of an electronic wallet system that provided seeds and fertilizers to farmers.

Adesina has received a number of global awards for his work in agriculture, including the 2017 World Food Prize and the Outstanding Black Agricultural Economist from the American Association of Agricultural Economists.

A respected economist and agricultural development expert, he has served as vice president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and as associate director of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Adesina also was principal economist for three organizations: The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, the West Africa Rice Development Association and the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.

In addition, he is a former president of the African Association of Agricultural Economics.

Adesina has written more than 70 publications, and he has sat on the editorial boards of several academic journals.


Beardslee rose to prominence in the postwar years as classical music audiences were being challenged by the modernist thinking of European artists and thinkers.

With her musical intuition and dedication to new music, Beardslee became the go-to girl for 12-tone music in New York City. She was the first American singer to build a repertoire, performing the music of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Milton Babbitt and Pierre Boulez, making a career of singing difficult music.

An MSU alumna, Beardslee was born in Lansing and participated in graduate study at Julliard School. She holds honorary doctorates from Princeton University and the New England Conservatory of Music.


wave and smile

Sachs’ career in human rights started at 17, when, as a second-year law student at the University of Cape Town, he participated in the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign, which was the first large-scale, multi-racial political mobilization against apartheid laws under a common leadership.

At the age of 21, he started practicing law, working to defend people charged under racist statutes and security laws.

After being placed in solitary confinement, Sachs went into exile in 1966 in England. He spent 11 years studying and teaching law there, followed by another 11 years teaching in Mozambique, South Africa.

In 1988, he lost his right arm and sight in one eye after a bomb placed in his car detonated, which inspired him to devote his attention to a new democratic Constitution for South Africa.

In 1990, Sachs became a member of the Constitutional Committee and the Africa National Congress in South Africa. Nelson Mandela appointed Sachs to South Africa’s new Constitutional Court in 1994.

While serving as a justice on the court, Sachs adjudicated the landmark case Prinsloo vs. Van der Linde, which established the connection between the right to equality and dignity.

He’s written many books, including “The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs.”


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