Commencement speakers tap the magic of human talent and the sea

By Maya Bell

Commencement speakers tap the magic of human talent and the sea

By Maya Bell
The University of Miami's fall commencement speakers are visionaries in their respective fields.

Two extraordinary men—a lawyer who has left an indelible mark on both the workplace and higher education and a business executive who revolutionized the cruise industry—will share their insights at the University of Miami’s fall commencement ceremonies on Thursday, Dec. 13, when more than 1,000 students cross the stage for their diplomas.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), will address more than 500 undergraduate students at the 10 a.m. ceremony at the Watsco Center, and Richard D. Fain, the chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., will advise more than 500 graduate students at the 2 p.m. ceremony. 

Both men have deep ties to South Florida and the University. A 1989 graduate of UM’s School of Communication, Taylor was elected last year to UM’s Board of Trustees, which Fain joined two decades ago and has chaired since 2016. Fain will be joined on the graduate ceremony stage by François Baron Englert, the 2013 Nobel Laureate in Physics, who will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree. 

TaylorTaylor, a Fort Lauderdale native who attended UM as an Isaac Bashevis Singer Scholar and earned his law degree from Drake University, knew by age 7 that he wanted to be a lawyer. But driven by his passion for “tapping the magic” of human talent, he spent more than two decades as a human resources executive and CEO at a myriad of non and for-profit concerns. Among them: Viacom’s Blockbuster Entertainment and Paramount Pictures; McGuireWoods HR Strategies LLC, the Compass Group USA; IAC/Interactive Corp., and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. 

A global leader in human capital, culture, and leadership, Taylor frequently testifies before Congress on workplace issues ranging from sexual harassment to paid leave and writes a weekly column, “Ask HR,” for USA Today. He also coauthored the book “The Trouble with HR: An Insider’s Guide to Finding and Keeping the Best People,” which, ironically, was published in 2009, the year Taylor intended to retire. 

As a first-time father, he planned to focus on raising his newborn daughter, but took the helm of the struggling Thurgood Marshall College Fund, raising more than $100 million over nearly eight years to ensure the iconic institution that represents the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) could continue providing “a robust and diverse pipeline of talented workers and future leaders.” 

Just a year after accepting SHRM's top post, Taylor has already had similar success at the world’s largest HR professional society, which under his leadership has grown to a record 300,000 members in 165 countries who impact the lives of 115 million workers every day. But he remains heavily involved with HBCUs, as President Donald Trump recently appointed him chair of the President's Advisory Board on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

FainA native of Providence, Rhode Island, and longtime resident and civic leader in Miami, Fain has been driven by his own passions—for the sea and for making lifetime memories for millions of travelers—to guide Royal Caribbean Cruise’s (RCL) growth for a remarkable three decades. Along the way, he changed the course of the cruise industry, pushing the boundaries of shipboard attractions, designs and efficiencies, and making vacations once targeted to older, high-end travelers accessible and affordable for passengers of all walks of life. 

Today the company boasts nearly $10 billion in revenues from six different cruise lines—Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Silversea Cruises, TUI Cruises, and Pullmantur Cruceros—that offer such innovations as surfing simulators, climbing walls, wraparound lounges, and air parks. 

As Fain is fond of saying, “I have the best job in the world.” 

Fain found his way to the cruise industry in 1975, when after earning his B.A. in economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and his M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, he went to work for Gotaas-Larsen Shipping Corp., helping guide the London-based cargo company and minority shareholder in Royal Caribbean from near-bankruptcy to solvency and growth. After nine years as an outside director on Royal Caribbean’s board, the company offered Fain its top post of chairman and CEO. 

During his 30 years at RCL’s helm, Fain has not only elevated the cruising experience and opportunities for vacationers, but also built the company’s profile as a stellar corporate citizen. Named one of the World’s Best CEOs by Barron’s, he has positioned RCL as a leading industry voice for sustainability and social responsibility, emphasizing the importance of energy-efficient ships, sustainable destinations, and diverse and inclusive workforces. 

Before Fain shares his advice with graduate students, Englert will be honored for his co-discovery of the mechanism by which subatomic particles gather mass—and thus hold the universe together. 

EnglertThe son of Polish Jews who emigrated to Belgium before he was born to escape anti-Semitism in their homeland, Englert could not escape persecution when Nazi Germany invaded Belgium in 1940. Compelled to wear the distinctive Star of David that marked them for deportation to Nazi death camps, the young boy, his older brother, and their parents survived the Holocaust by separating, hiding their identities, and depending on the courageous and generous strangers who sheltered them. 

But Englert owes the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics he won with Peter W. Higgs not only to those who saved him from the Nazis, but to his instinct to change course and pursue a career in theoretical physics instead of electrical-mechanical engineering. 

That decision paved the way for the theory that he and his longtime colleague and friend Robert Brout first published in 1964 describing how an invisible field present throughout the universe imbues electrons and other elementary particles with mass. Higgs published a similar theory shortly after and, nearly 50 years later, thousands of scientists at the CERN Laboratory outside Geneva, Switzerland, confirmed their theory by extracting what’s now known as the Brout-Englert-Higgs boson from the largest and most complex machine ever constructed, CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.


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