Blue and yellow balloons fall from the rafters at the UIC Pavilion during NEIU Commencement

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Chicago lawyer and civic leader Valerie B. Jarrett, the longest-serving senior adviser to President Barack Obama, will be Northeastern Illinois University’s May 2017 Commencement speaker. During the ceremony, Jarrett will be awarded an honorary doctorate degree in recognition of her outstanding achievements.

During her time working for Obama, Jarrett oversaw the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and chaired the White House Council on Women and Girls. She worked throughout her tenure at the White House to mobilize elected officials, business and community leaders, and diverse groups of advocates.

“Over her many years of service in Chicago and in Washington, D.C., Valerie Jarrett has consistently demonstrated herself to be a champion of equality and opportunity for all,” Interim President Richard Helldobler said. “Those values are at the root of who we are at this institution. We are honored to welcome Ms. Jarrett into the Northeastern Illinois University family during Commencement.”

Jarrett has received a number of awards and honorary degrees, including Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.” She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University in 1978 and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1981.

Jarrett has a background in both the public and private sectors. She served as the chief executive officer of The Habitat Company in Chicago, chairman of the Chicago Transit Board, commissioner of Planning and Development, and deputy chief of staff for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. She also served as the director of numerous corporate and not-for-profit boards, including chairman of the Board of the Chicago Stock Exchange, chairman of the University of Chicago Medical Center Board of Trustees, and director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

With an enrollment of about 10,000 students, Northeastern Illinois University offers more than 40 undergraduate degree and certificate programs and more than 50 graduate degree, certificate, licensure and endorsement programs.

In September 2016, Northeastern earned U.S. News & World Report’s No. 1 ranking for students who graduate with the least amount of debt among Midwest regional universities. In November 2016, Northeastern was named the most diverse university in the Midwest by The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Ranking.

Commencement is scheduled for 4 p.m. May 8 at UIC Pavilion, 525 S. Racine Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are required. The ceremony will be streamed live at


Valerie Jarrett