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DePaul University announces 2023 commencement speakers, honorary degree recipients

Dignitaries Jahmal Cole, Dorri McWhorter among those celebrating with the Class of 2023

Commencement speakers, honorary degree recipients 2023
(Top L-R): Ron OJ Parson, Stacy Janiak, Shawn Kasserman and Stanley Nelson. (Bottom L-R): Denis Springer, Jahmal Cole, Dorri McWhorter and Brian D. Ruben. (Composite by Carrie Emge, photos courtesy of commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients)
CHICAGO — Champions of social justice, top business and law executives, and film and theatre legends have been chosen to speak at DePaul University’s upcoming commencement ceremonies. Several dignitaries will also receive honorary degrees for outstanding or lifetime achievement in their fields. Speakers include Jahmal Cole, founder and CEO of My Block My Hood My City, Dorri McWhorter, president and CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, and more.

“DePaul’s 2023 commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients exemplify what it means to live our Catholic, Vincentian mission,” DePaul President Robert L. Manuel said. “It’s an honor for DePaul to celebrate their service and contributions to society. I’m grateful our students will have the opportunity to gain one more lesson from such exemplary leaders before they graduate and join one of the strongest alumni networks in the country.”

The College of Law will kick off commencement festivities May 20 at The Chicago Theatre, with six more ceremonies planned for June 10-11 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood. Each event will also be available to view online via livestream. For additional details about individual ceremonies, please visit the commencement website at

Saturday, May 20

College of Law

11 a.m., The Chicago Theatre

Shawn Kasserman, founding member and partner of Tomasik Kotin Kasserman, LLC: Shawn Kasserman will speak at the ceremony. Kasserman is a founding member and partner of the personal injury law firm Tomasik Kotin Kasserman, LLC, as well as the incoming president of the Illinois State Bar Association, which represents 28,000 lawyer members. A 1990 graduate of DePaul’s College of Law, Kasserman is a member of the college’s Dean’s Advisory Council and an employer and mentor to many of the college’s students and graduates. Such involvement earned him the college’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2017. As a leader in the community, he serves on the board of several non-profit organizations, including Kids in Danger, an organization dedicated to protecting children by fighting for product safety.

Saturday, June 10

Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media and The Theatre School

8 a.m., Wintrust Arena

Ron OJ Parson, resident artist at Court Theatre: Ron OJ Parson will receive an honorary degree during the combined ceremony. Parson has won numerous awards for directing plays that tell stories from a BIPOC point of view, including more than 30 productions of August Wilson’s body of work. Recently, his productions galvanized the post-pandemic recovery of theatre in Chicago for a broad spectrum of audiences while bringing new attention to rarely produced works by authors of color. Parson directed more than 125 productions and co-founded the Chicago theatre company Onyx Theatre Ensemble. 

College of Communication and the College of Education

1 p.m., Wintrust Arena

Jahmal Cole, founder and CEO of My Block My Hood My City: Jahmal Cole will speak and receive an honorary degree during the combined ceremony. Cole is the founder and CEO of My Block My Hood My City. This fast-growing social impact organization encourages teenagers from under-resourced Chicago communities to reject isolation and instead pursue connection with the broader world. Cole has been recognized repeatedly as one of the city’s foremost community organizers, and he was the focus of the recent documentary film, "A Tiny Ripple of Hope." He resides in Chatham on Chicago’s South Side.

College of Science and Health and the School of Music

6 p.m., Wintrust Arena

Students from the School of Music will perform.

Sunday, June 11

Driehaus College of Business (Undergraduate only)

8 a.m., Wintrust Arena

Stacy Janiak, chief growth officer at Deloitte and DePaul Board of Trustee member: Stacy Janiak will speak and receive an honorary degree during the combined ceremony. Janiak has been with Deloitte, the professional services firm, for over 30 years, joining the company after graduating from DePaul in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Today, Janiak manages a client portfolio of more than $24 billion. She has been recognized as a Woman with Impact by the Women’s Business Development Council. She sits on several boards, including DePaul, the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, the Executives’ Club of Chicago, and New Profit, a venture philanthropy organization that backs breakthrough social entrepreneurs who are advancing equity and opportunity.

Kellstadt Graduate School of Business

1 p.m., Wintrust Arena

Brian D. Ruben, audit & assurance partner at Deloitte: Brian D. Ruben will speak at the ceremony. With nearly 30 years of public accounting experience, Ruben serves real estate clients from small companies to multinationals. Ruben has several leadership roles at Deloitte, including Global Real Estate Audit & Assurance Leader and U.S. Real Estate Leader for Clients and Growth. Ruben earned a master's in accountancy from DePaul’s Kellstadt School of Business and is an active alumnus on DePaul's behalf, including as the Lead University Relationship Partner and as co-chair of the Driehaus College of Business Advisory Council.

Denis Springer, retired senior vice president and chief financial officer at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (BNSF): Denis Springer will receive an honorary degree. Springer co-chairs the executive committee of the Driehaus College of Business Advisory Council and is a Director of Junior Achievement of Chicago. Springer joined the council in 1995 and has chaired it at several points over the years. He has a long history of supporting DePaul and its Vincentian mission; among his gifts to the university are the Denis and Roselyn Springer Endowed Scholarship Fund, established in 2019. 

College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and the School of Continuing and Professional Studies

6 p.m., Wintrust Arena

Dorri McWhorter, president and CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago: Dorri McWhorter will speak at the combined ceremony. McWhorter is president and CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago and is the first woman and first Black person to hold the position. McWhorter previously served for eight years as CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, during which time it added 10 locations, completed seven mergers and acquisitions, implemented paid family leave, and developed a retirement plan to include thousands of child-care providers and small-business owners. Crain’s Chicago Business named her last year to its list of Notable Black Leaders and Executives. 

Stanley Nelson, documentary filmmaker and founder of Firelight Media: Stanley Nelson will receive an honorary degree at the combined ceremony. Nelson is widely recognized as one of the greatest curators of the African American experience. His films illuminate new truths about stories we thought we knew and understood. For his body of work, Nelson has received a Peabody Award, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, five Primetime Emmy Awards, a National Humanities Medal, and lifetime achievement awards from the Emmys and IDA. Most recently, his 2021 film, “Attica,” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. In 1998, Nelson founded Firelight Media, which supports the emergence of non-fiction filmmakers of color.

About DePaul University

DePaul University provides exceptional academics and real-world experiences to prepare students for a changing world. With nearly 21,000 students across more than 300 academic programs, DePaul has two campus locations in Chicago. Students richly benefit from the city’s many opportunities. In turn, DePaul is one of the forces that shapes Chicago’s future. The university was founded in 1898 by the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), a Roman Catholic religious community dedicated to following the ideals of St. Vincent de Paul. DePaul is among the nation’s top universities for diversity because of its long tradition of providing a high-quality education to students from a broad range of backgrounds. DePaul is one of the largest private, nonprofit universities in the Midwest and one of the largest Catholic universities in the nation. Visit to learn more.

Russell Dorn is a manager of news and integrated content in University Communications.