Ady Barkan, Gustavo Dudamel and Bill Keller ’70 Announced as 2021 Commencement Speakers

Activist Ady Barkan, renowned conductor Gustavo Dudamel and Pulitzer Prize-­winning journalist Bill Keller ’70 will deliver commencement addresses to the Class of 2021. The College’s 128th commencement exercises will be a virtual celebration that will take place in early summer. Barkan, Dudamel and Keller will be each recognized with an honorary degree by the College.

A Powerful Healthcare Activist

Lawyer and activist Ady Barkan is the founding director of the Center for Popular Democracy’s Fed Up, a national campaign for full employment and a reformed Federal Reserve.

He first came to national attention with the 2014 Fed Up campaign, which had a very specific policy goal: to diversify the regional boards of the Federal Reserve, pressuring the Fed to keep interest rates low in consideration of the interests of working people. This proposal earned Barkan a spot in Politico 50’s list of innovators that year.

Since his ALS diagnosis in 2016, Barkan has put himself at the center of healthcare discussions calling for Medicare for All by interviewing politicians and testifying before Congress.

Barkan is also the co-founder of the Be A Hero fund, which works to increase access to healthcare. In 2020, his Be a Hero political action committee engaged Democratic presidential candidates including now President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren in conversations about the U.S. healthcare system for his video series, Uncovered. Later that year, Barkan spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

A native of Claremont, Barkan is a graduate of Yale Law School and Columbia College. He lives with his wife Rachael and their children, Carl and Willow, in Santa Barbara.

World Renowned Conductor, Youth Music Advocate

One of the most decorated conductors of his generation, Gustavo Dudamel is the music and artistic director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is driven by the belief that music has the power to transform lives, to inspire and to change the world. Through his dynamic presence at the podium and his tireless advocacy for arts education, Dudamel has introduced classical music to new audiences around the world and has helped to provide access to the arts for countless young people in underserved communities.

Inspired by his family—Dudamel’s father was a trombonist and his mother a voice teacher—he grew up listening to music and conducting his toys to old recordings. At the age of 15, Dudamel found himself on the podium of the nation’s flagship Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela (now the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela) of which he remains chief conductor.

A lifelong advocate for music education and social development through art, Dudamel himself was shaped by his childhood experience with El Sistema, the extraordinary program and philosophy created in 1975 by Maestro José Antonio Abreu. In 2007, inspired by El Sistema, Dudamel, the LA Phil and its community partners founded YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) which now serves over 1,300 musicians, providing young people with free instruments, intensive music instruction, academic support and leadership training.

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist, Former Executive Editor The New York Times

Bill Keller ’70 is the former editor-in-chief of The Marshall Project, a non-profit, independent news organization focused on crime and punishment in the United States. He joined the venture as founding editor in 2014 after 30 years at The New York Times as a correspondent, editor and op-ed columnist.

From 2003 to 2011, he was the executive editor of the Times. During his eight years in that role, the Times won 18 Pulitzer Prizes and expanded its audience by adapting the newsroom to the journalistic potential of the internet. 

As chief of The New York Times bureau in Johannesburg from 1992 until 1995, he covered the end of white rule in South Africa. In the late 1980s, Keller was a Times correspondent in Moscow, reporting on the easing and ultimate collapse of Communist rule.

Keller is an emeritus member of the Pomona College Board of Trustees, a member of The Marshall Project board of directors, and an advisor to the Prison Journalism Project and the News Literacy Project. He lives in New York with his wife, Emma Gilbey Keller, and is working on a book about the role of prisons in America. His daughter Molly is a member of the Pomona College Class of 2019.

For more information, visit the commencement webpage.