Cory A. Booker, 43, who is credited with helping revitalize New Jersey’s largest city with his hands-on and innovative approach, was selected to give the 152nd Commencement address at Washington University in St. Louis in 2013. Booker received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in 2013.
This was his second time speaking at Washington University. Booker delivered an Assembly Series lecture on the significance of community service in fall 2007.
During the ceremony, Booker, a Rhodes Scholar and Yale law graduate, received an honorary doctor of laws degree from WUSTL.
“I am honored that Mayor Cory Booker will be addressing this year’s graduates of Washington University,” said Wrighton. “Mayor Booker is a person who, like our graduates, has had extraordinary educational opportunities. I am deeply impressed with how, in his young career, he has been able to put his education to use as one of America’s most prominent civic leaders. It is my great expectation that our graduates will use their Washington University education, much like Mayor Booker has used his, to help bring benefit to their future communities.”
Tackling significant challenges with innovation
In his second term as Newark’s mayor, Booker has been instrumental in more than doubling the rate of affordable housing production; creating the city’s largest expansion of parks and recreation spaces in over a century; and bringing more than $1 billion of new economic development into the city, including its first office towers and hotels in decades.
He has attracted national attention for his education reform efforts to improve city schools; public safety initiatives to reduce crime; and innovative programs to help men and women leaving prison find jobs and reconnect with their community.
Booker also has gained wide attention for implementing new technologies in the city, ranging from creating the state’s largest wireless network of crime-fighting technology — including cameras and gunshot detection — to using social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
An avid social media user, Booker has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter.
Booker has been recognized by numerous media outlets, including Time selecting him to its 2011 Time 100, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Achieving social justice through action
Inspired at an early age by his parents — both civil rights activists in the 1960s — he has dedicated his life to achieving social justice through individual action.
After graduating from law school in 1997, he moved into a crime-ridden Newark public apartment complex that had become known for its decrepit condition, including rat infestations and broken elevators and smoke detectors.
A resident for eight years, including a short time while mayor, Booker led the project’s tenants in their fight for improvements in housing, maintenance and security.
At 29 years old, he was elected to Newark’s City Council in an upset victory over a four-term incumbent.
While serving as a city councilman from 1998 to 2002, he went on a 10-day hunger strike to draw attention to rampant drug-dealing in one of Newark’s worst housing projects, an effort that led to increased police presence and improved security for residents.
He also spent months camped out in a trailer in some of the most crime- and drug-infested areas of the city, bringing attention to inner-city problems and inspiring residents and businesses to fight against drug dealing and crime.
Booker ran for mayor unsuccessfully in a contentious race in 2002 that was captured in an Oscar-nominated documentary called Street Fight.
When Booker ran again in 2006 vowing to reduce the crime rate and improve education and city services, the community activist won with a clear mandate of 72 percent of the vote.
As mayor, his personal involvement in helping improve life for his constituents has ranged from living on a “food stamp” budget for seven days to raise awareness of food insecurity, shoveling the driveway of a elderly man who requested help via the mayor’s Twitter feed, inviting Hurricane Sandy victims into his home, and saving a woman from a house fire.
Booker earned a bachelor of arts in political science in 1991 and a master of arts in sociology in 1992, both from Stanford University, where he returned in 2012 as its commencement speaker.
While an undergraduate at Stanford, Booker was elected senior class president, ran a student-run crisis hotline, organized programs for marginalized youth and won the university’s highest award for service in 1991.
He also played varsity football and was named to the All-Pacific 10 Academic Team in 1991.
As a Rhodes Scholar, he earned an honors degree in modern history in 1994 from Oxford University, where he ran a mentoring program for low-income youth.
While earning a juris doctorate at Yale Law School in 1997, he operated free legal clinics for low-income residents of New Haven.