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'Treme's' Wendell Pierce to deliver unified commencement address

February 18, 2011

Award-winning actor Wendell Pierce will address Loyola University New Orleans’ Class of 2011 during its unified commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 14, at 9:45 a.m. in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The star of HBO’s “Treme” series will also receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during commencement exercises. Pierce joins Loyola’s other honorary degree recipients including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., legendary music producer Cosimo Matassa, and New Orleans businessman and Loyola trustee emeritus John B. Levert Jr.

The Honorable Mayor Mitch Landrieu, J.D. ’85, H ’05, will deliver the address at Loyola’s College of Law commencement ceremony, which takes place that same day at 5:45 p.m. in the convention center.

About the speakers and honorary degree recipients:

Wendell Pierce is New Orleans through and through. Like his “Treme” character trombonist Antoine Batiste, Pierce has witnessed firsthand his hometown’s slow recovery following Hurricane Katrina. With true Big Easy spirit and determination, Pierce worked following the storm to help rebuild the neighborhood in which he was raised, Pontchartrain Park. Taking matters into his own hands, he formed the non-profit Ponchartrain Park Community Development Corporation, an organization created to rebuild affordable and environmentally friendly homes, while preserving the community’s character. Most importantly, the organization was committed to assisting long-time residents in returning home to their neighborhood.

His television and film resume reads like a who’s who list of Hollywood. Pierce is recognized by audiences for his extensive work for directors including Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Brian De Palma, Barry Levinson, Sidney Lumet and Paul Schrader. Pierce appeared on five critically acclaimed seasons of “The Wire,” and also starred in “Life Support” opposite Queen Latifah.

He appeared as himself in Spike Lee’s documentary “When the Levees Broke,” telling his family’s story of loss. Pierce’s filmography also includes Disney’s “Stay Alive,” the award-winning “Ray,” “Fighting Temptations,” “Sleepers,” “Waiting to Exhale,” “Hackers,” “Malcolm X,” “Bonfire of the Vanities,” “A Rage in Harlem,” and “The Money Pit,” among many others. Pierce has had recurring roles on television shows including “Numb3rs,” “Law and Order,” “Third Watch,” “New York Undercover,” and “I’ll Fly Away.” His Broadway stage credits include roles in “Queenie Pie,” “The Piano Lesson,” “Serious Money,” and “The Boys of Winter.”

In 2010, Pierce won an Obie Award for his work in off-Broadway theater and the 2008 NAACP Image Award for best actor in a television movie for HBO’s “Life Support,” which also garnered him a Women’s Image Network Award.

Mitchell J. Landrieu, J.D. ’85, H ’05, was sworn in as the 61st mayor of New Orleans on May 3, 2010. He grew up as one of nine children in the Broadmoor neighborhood, and it was there on South Prieur Street that he developed a love for the City of New Orleans. Today, Landrieu and his wife Cheryl are raising five children of their own.

Landrieu’s governing philosophy is rooted in his Jesuit education, where he learned to be committed to service. He was educated at Jesuit High School, Catholic University, and earned a law degree from Loyola University New Orleans. Landrieu had a successful law practice for 15 years and became an expert mediator, focusing on alternative dispute resolution. In life, law and government, he always seeks to bring people together to find common ground.

As a state legislator, Landrieu represented the Broadmoor neighborhood for 16 years. During his tenure, he made his mark as a highly-respected reformer determined to get results. As lieutenant governor of Louisiana, Landrieu managed a $127 million budget and 800 employees. To deliver results, he demanded strict standards of accountability.

After Hurricane Katrina, he led the effort to rebuild the tourism industry and the thousands of jobs swept away by the storm. When other government agencies failed, Landrieu’s team cut through the bureaucratic red tape and directed more than $22 million of federal assistance directly into the hands of hundreds of struggling homeowners. During his tenure, Landrieu focused his efforts on job creation throughout the state. He launched the cultural economy initiative to grow jobs through our culture, music, food, film and art. The cultural economy accounts for 144,000 jobs in Louisiana.

In his first months as mayor, Mayor Landrieu has worked aggressively to restore public confidence and credibility in our city, our government, and our police department.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. One of the nation's most prominent marine biologists, she was tapped by President Barack Obama in 2009 to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She is the first woman to hold this position and led the organization during the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. Lubchenco, a conservationist who has devoted much of her career to encouraging scientists to become more engaged in public policy debates, is also a vocal proponent of curbing greenhouse gases linked to global warming. She has studied marine ecosystems around the world and championed the importance of science and its relevance to policy making and human well-being.

Lubchenco has provided scientific input to multiple U.S. Administrations and Congress on climate, fisheries, marine ecosystems and biodiversity. She served on the first National Academy of Sciences study on ‘Policy Implications of Global Warming,’ providing advice to the George H.W. Bush administration and Congress. In 1997, she briefed President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and members of Congress on climate change.

Her scientific contributions are widely recognized and she is one of the most highly referenced ecologists in the world. She is a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the International Council for Science and the Ecological Society of America. She also served 10 years on the Board of Directors for the National Science Foundation. Lubchenco is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and four international academies of science: the Royal Society, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, Europe, and Chile.

Raised in Denver, she received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Colorado College, a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Washington and a doctorate in ecology from Harvard University.

Cosimo Matassa will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Music. He was born in 1926 and is a lifelong resident of New Orleans. He was the founder of J&M Recording Studio, the birthplace of many R&B and rock and roll classics. The Italian-American, self-taught recording engineer graduated from Warren Easton High School and briefly attended the chemistry program at Tulane University. He dropped out of college to work for his father’s jukebox and record retail business on North Rampart Street, and shortly after turned the back room of the shop into a recording studio.

Matassa was skilled at microphone placement and capturing the sound of New Orleans R&B with a naturalistic feel. From 1947-1956, he owned and operated J&M Recording Studio and produced records that helped give birth to rock and roll. It is from these recordings that the term “the New Orleans sound” of music came about, which is also known as “the Cosimo sound.” This unique sound featured strong drums, heavy guitar and bass, light piano, light horn and a strong vocal lead. Along with producer and arranger Dave Bartholomew, Matassa recorded sessions by pioneers such as Fats Domino and Little Richard, among countless others.

He has received many music awards during his lifetime. In 2007, he was honored with a Grammy Trustees Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, and won the Louis Prima Arts & Entertainment Award from the Louisiana American Italian Sports Hall of Fame. He received the Iberville Award from New Orleans Magazine in 1996, and the Big Easy Entertainment Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.

Last fall, the site where J&M Studios was located on N. Rampart Street was designated by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum as an historic rock and roll landmark, one of only 11 such places nationwide.

John B. Levert Jr. will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Business. He is an emeritus member of the Loyola University New Orleans Board of Trustees and the retired chief executive officer of Howard Weil Labouisse Fredrichs, Inc., a premier energy investment bank. He currently serves as president of Tripp Corporation, United Lands Company, Inc., and as a director of Evangeline Farms, Inc., which owns and breeds Paso Fino horses.

After graduating from Tulane University in 1954 and serving in the United States Army, Levert’s distinguished business career began when he became a salesman for the Carl E. Woodward Construction Company in 1956. In 1958, Levert started working for Metal Building Products in Harvey, La., where he eventually became the executive vice president of the company. He joined Howard Weil in 1970, was elected president in 1975, and was appointed chairman and CEO in 1977.

Levert has had a long and dedicated involvement with Loyola University New Orleans, most recently co-founding the College of Business’ Center for Spiritual Capital and serving as an active adviser for the center. “Right is right even if nobody is doing it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is doing it,” says Levert, and it’s a philosophy he follows as one of southeast Louisiana’s most successful businessmen.

Levert is a member of Loyola's Heritage Society and the Society of St. Ignatius and served on the university’s board of trustees from 1989 until 1997. He was elected as an emeritus trustee in 2009.

He is an active member of the New Orleans business community, and has been affiliated with many organizations including the United Way, the Public Affairs Research Council, the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce's Business Council and Economic Development Committee, and the Executive Committee of the Business Task Force on Education. For his commitment to the community and his fellow man, he received the Papal Knight of St. Gregory Award in 1989 and the Humanitarian Award from the Arthritis Foundation in 1989.

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