Announcing the Commencement 2023 Honorees

Commencement is a time to celebrate the achievements of nearly 3,000 Tulane graduates. It is also a time for us to recognize individuals whose accomplishments have had a major impact on our society, often well beyond the boundaries of their fields – individuals who, through their discovery, expertise or art, inspire our graduates to aim high and think expansively as they seek to engage and improve the world.

At this year’s Unified Commencement Ceremony, we will honor three individuals who exemplify these criteria.

The honorees include Dr. Rosalind Picard, a pioneer of affective computing or “Emotion AI,” which seeks to train computers to recognize and respond appropriately to human emotional cues. Her book Affective Computing is internationally recognized as the cornerstone of this field, and she has published over 350 peer-reviewed articles in digital health, machine learning, wearables, and affective computing. She is also an inventor and entrepreneur, having co-founded two companies to bring her life-enhancing and lifesaving technologies to market: Empatica, the first AI-powered smartwatch approved by the FDA to monitor seizures, and Affectiva, whose Emotion AI software and services were recently acquired by SmartEye, a global company dedicated to reducing traffic fatalities through Driver Monitoring Systems. She is a professor at the MIT Media Lab, where she teaches and directs research. She also serves as founding faculty chair for MindHandHeart, MIT’s campus-wide wellbeing initiative. We are delighted to present Dr. Picard with an honorary Doctorate of Science.

For over 50 years, Quint Davis has been the driving force behind the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. While still a student at Tulane’s University College (now the School of Professional Advancement), he left to answer a call for local co-producers to launch the first Jazz Fest, and the rest is history. He took the original vision of impresario George Wein and built Jazz Fest into an international phenomenon by showcasing Louisiana music, food and crafts alongside national headlining acts. With hundreds of thousands of attendees making the pilgrimage to the Fairgrounds each year, Jazz Fest’s annual impact on the New Orleans economy numbers in the hundreds of millions. Additionally, Jazz Fest promotes, preserves and perpetuates the music, culture and heritage of local communities through free programs, lectures, music lessons, and more offered by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. In 1995, Quint partnered with Essence Magazine to design and produce the Essence Music Festival (now the Essence Festival of Culture), and led it into becoming the foremost African-American social and entertainment event in America. We are thrilled to recognize him as an official Tulane alumnus by awarding him an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Leslie Odom, Jr. is a multifaceted, award-winning vocalist, songwriter, author, and actor who will deliver our keynote address. As the original “Aaron Burr” in the musical Hamilton, his Tony Award-winning performance helped the show become a cultural juggernaut that changed the landscape of modern musical theater.  His performance on the Hamilton cast recording earned him a Grammy Award, and he recently received an Oscar nomination and a Critics’ Choice Award for “Speak Now,” the original song he wrote, composed and performed for Regina King’s One Night in Miami… in which he starred as soul legend Sam Cooke. His film appearances also include Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery and a starring role in the upcoming Exorcist trilogy, while his television work includes a guest role on the hit ABC comedy Abbott Elementary and an Emmy-nominated voice acting role on the AppleTV+ series Central Park. He just published his second book, I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know, a children’s book co-written with his wife Nicolette Robinson. In his first book, Failing Up, he shares the life lessons that enabled him to overcome challenges, pursue his passions, and achieve artistic excellence while crossing genres and boundaries. I will be honored to present him with the President’s Medal at the Unified Commencement Ceremony.

We are grateful that these three honorees will join us for Commencement 2023 and inspire us with their achievements. Their accomplishments hint at what our graduates can achieve with the knowledge, skills and values they have gained through their Tulane education.