Pomona College Announces 2024 Commencement Speakers

2024 commencement speakers

Pomona College’s commencement ceremony, taking place May 12, 2024, will feature four distinguished speakers: former chief justice of California Tani Cantil-Sakauye, economist and nonprofit leader Cecilia Conrad, Occidental College President Harry Elam and medical geneticist Emil Kakkis ’82. In addition to addressing graduating students, the speakers will be conferred honorary degrees by the College.

Tani Cantil-Sakauye

Cantil-Sakauye is president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that works to improve public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research.

Prior to joining PPIC, she served 32 years as a jurist, with the last 12 as the Chief Justice of California leading the judicial branch, the third branch of government. In the role, she established herself as one of the country’s leading proponents of equal access to justice, civic education and reform of court funding practices that unfairly affect the poor.

She has been recognized for her early work on domestic violence issues, support for minority bar associations and advancing the role of women and minorities in the legal profession. She helped revitalize civic learning as chief justice through her Power of Democracy initiative.

Cantil-Sakauye was honored in 2019 with the Sandra Day O’Connor Award by the National Center for State Courts for her work inspiring, promoting and improving civics education. She holds a B.A. and a J.D. from UC Davis.

Cecilia Conrad

Conrad is founder and chief executive officer of Lever for Change and senior advisor at the MacArthur Foundation. Lever for Change helps donors find high impact philanthropic opportunities and has helped distribute more than $1.7 billion for social good, supporting some 145 organizations and tackling issues like racial inequity, gender inequality, access to economic opportunity and climate change. Before founding Lever for Change, Conrad led the MacArthur Fellows program. In 2023, The Nonprofit Times named her to its Top 50 Power & Influence List and Inside Philanthropy named her one of the 50 most powerful women in philanthropy.

Conrad is an emerita professor of economics with Pomona College, joining the faculty in 1995 and retiring in 2013. At Pomona, she also served as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college and later as acting president.

In recognition of her academic research and advocacy around racial and gender equity, Conrad received the National Economic Association’s Samuel V. Westerfield Award and the National Urban League’s Women of Power Award. She earned a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in economics from Stanford University.

Harry Elam

Elam is the 16th president of Occidental College. During his tenure, he has positioned Occidental as a cutting-edge liberal arts institution and demonstrated visionary leadership in complex national higher education issues today. He completed the most successful comprehensive campaign in the College’s history, created Occidental’s first strategic plan in over a decade, and led myriad transformative initiatives to advance the College’s renown for education that values social impact.

Prior to Occidental, Elam served as the vice president of the arts and the vice provost for undergraduate education at Stanford University, where he developed innovative initiatives to increase diversity both in the arts and in STEM fields.

A Harvard College graduate, Elam earned his doctorate in the dramatic arts at UC Berkeley. A pre-eminent scholar of playwright August Wilson’s works, he is the author and co-editor of seven scholarly books. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the College of Fellows of the American Theatre.

Emil Kakkis ’82

Kakkis is the chief executive officer and president of Ultragenyx. Known for his work to develop treatments for rare and ultra-rare disorders, Kakkis has identified or developed 11 approved treatments for rare genetic diseases.

After earning a B.A. in biology at Pomona College, he received his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from UCLA. Kakkis began his research career at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center where he worked on developing an enzyme replacement therapy for the rare lysosomal storage disorder MPS I.

Kakkis founded the EveryLife Foundation for Rare Diseases, a nonprofit foundation in Washington D.C. dedicated to the acceleration of biotech innovation for rare diseases through improvements to development strategies, regulatory policy and law.

For his visionary leadership and achievement, Kakkis has been recognized by organizations such as the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the National MPS Society and the California Life Sciences Association.

Information for commencement weekend can be found on the commencement webpage. A live broadcast of the ceremony will be available.