Academics People and Community

Notable speakers to address University of Miami graduates

Seven distinguished individuals will take the stage during spring 2024 commencement exercises honoring baccalaureates, doctoral and master’s degree recipients, and law and medical graduates.
Commencement speakers
Speakers for this year’s commencement exercises will feature, top row, Benjamin Kirtman, Claude M. Steele, Elizabeth Alexander, and David Brooks. Bottom row: Kim Stone, Yvette Ostolaza, and Christopher J.L. Murray

An illustrious cohort of scholars, authors, and industry professionals will share their words of wisdom with University of Miami graduates during seven commencement ceremonies over three days, May 9–11, at the Watsco Center on the Coral Gables Campus.  

The ceremonies will be livestreamed for virtual viewing from anywhere, enabling everybody to celebrate the accomplishments of 1,318 new doctorate and master’s degree holders, 2,429 baccalaureates, 444 law students, and 202 medical students earning their degrees from the University of Miami.   

The following information provides a look at each commencement speaker, along with the date, time, and the schools and colleges associated with the specific ceremony. 

Thursday, May 9, 10 a.m.; Benjamin Kirtman, the William R. Middelthon III Endowed Chair of Earth Sciences, director, NOAA Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, and deputy director, Frost Institute for Data Science and Computing

Graduate degree ceremony for the Graduate School, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, Miller School of Medicine, and School of Nursing and Health Studies

A professor of atmospheric sciences at the Rosenstiel School, Kirtman arrived at the University in 2007 and quickly launched the University’s renowned climate modeling initiatives, which aim to predict how the ocean, atmosphere, and land interact to produce our climate days—and even decades—in advance. 

Last year Kirtman, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland-College Park in 1992, received a trio of grants totaling more than $3 million from the National Science Foundation and NOAA that are allowing him to collaborate with Rosenstiel School colleagues and former students across the country to improve prediction tools for extreme weather and climate events.

He was elected as a fellow of the American Meteorological Society in 2018 and in 2023 as a fellow of the American Geophysical Union. 

Internationally, Kirtman has assumed a leadership role in the World Climate Research Programme’s seasonal-to-interannual prediction activities and was a coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change working group one—the Scientific Basis.

Thursday, May 9, 3 p.m.; Claude M. Steele, the Lucie Stern Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Stanford University

Graduate degree ceremony for the Graduate School, School of Architecture, the Miami Herbert Business School, the School of Communication, the School of Education and Human Development, and the Frost School of Music

A native of greater Chicago, Steele earned his B.A. in psychology from Hiram College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in social psychology from Ohio State University. He began his extensive academic leadership and research career at the University of Washington, where he taught for 14 years.

Steele moved to Stanford University in 1991. Over nearly three decades there, he chaired the Department of Psychology, directed the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and served as dean of the Graduate School of Education. He also served for two years as provost at Columbia University and at the University of California, Berkeley.

He has received many honors over his career, including the American Psychological Association’s Senior Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, and the American Philosophical Society.

Friday, May 10, 8:30 a.m.; Elizabeth Alexander, poet and author, and president of the Mellon Foundation

Undergraduate degree ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences and Division of Continuing and International Education

Born in Harlem and raised in Washington, D.C., Alexander earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University, a master’s degree in creative writing from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania.

An acclaimed poet, scholar, and cultural advocate, she began her academic career at the University of Chicago, and has held distinguished professorships at Smith College, Columbia University, and at Yale, where she taught for more than 15 years and chaired the African American Studies Department. Soon after, she took charge of the $8.1 billion Mellon Foundation’s mission to build just communities through the humanities and arts.

A member of the boards of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the Pulitzer Prize, and chancellor emeritus of the Academy of American Poets, she has received many honors, including Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Medal, France’s Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry. 

Friday, May 10, 1 p.m.; David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times and founder and chair of Weave: The Social Fabric Project

Undergraduate degree ceremony for the School of Architecture, the School of Communication, the School of Education and Human Development, the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, the Frost School of Music, and the School of Nursing and Health Studies

Brooks has honed his observational, research, and analytical skills over a 40-year media career that includes more than two decades writing incisive opinion columns about politics, culture, and society for The New York Times.

The son of two college professors, Brooks earned his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Chicago, where he contributed reviews and satirical pieces to campus publications. He has worked for the City News Bureau of Chicago; The Wall Street Journal, serving as editor of the book review section, movie critic, Op-Ed editor, and foreign correspondent in Europe; and then as senior editor for The Weekly Standard. He joined the Times in 2003 and has also been a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Atlantic, a commentator on NPR, the “PBS NewsHour,” and “Meet the Press.”

In 2018 Brooks founded Weave: The Social Fabric Project at the nonprofit Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. The project aims to connect, support, and invest in 10 million local leaders who are striving to weave a stronger, more inclusive social fabric in their communities.

Friday, May 11, 5:30 p.m.; Kimberly Stone, chief executive officer of the Washington Spirit

Undergraduate degree ceremony for the Miami Herbert Business School and College of Engineering

A highly sought global leader in sports business and arena management, Stone spent two decades rising through the ranks of the NBA’s Miami Heat organization, serving as executive vice president and general manager of the arena. Under her watch, the then-named American Airlines Arena hosted four straight NBA Finals series and two championship celebrations—and became the world’s first sports and entertainment facility to earn LEED Gold certification. 

Stone moved to San Francisco in 2019 to become the first general manager of the $1.6 billion Chase Center, the new home of the Golden State Warriors NBA team. In 2022 she moved to New York to become president of UBS Arena, home of the NHL’s New York Islanders. And in 2024 she moved to Washington, D.C., to become the first chief executive officer of the professional women’s soccer team, the Washington Spirit of the NWSL.
She has earned many honors over her career, including being named one of Billboard’s Women in Music Top Executives in 2023 and Woman of the Year by Women in Sports and Events. She served on the University of Miami President’s Council for over a decade and was enshrined in the University of North Carolina Public Relations Hall of Fame.

Stone earned her master’s degree in business administration from the University of Miami and holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and public relations from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Saturday, May 11, 10 a.m.; Yvette Ostolaza, management committee chair and executive committee member, Sidley Austin LLP

The School of Law ceremony

A first-generation college graduate and daughter of Cuban immigrants, Ostolaza is a double alumna of the University.

In 2022, she became Sidley Austin’s Management Committee Chair, making her the first woman or Hispanic to lead the global firm, and the first woman to lead any top 7 revenue U.S. law firm. She also sits on the Board of Directors and chairs the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee of Lions Gate Entertainment, Inc.

Ostolaza’s career has earned her extensive recognition including recently being named to CNBC’s inaugural list of 50 “Changemakers: Women Transforming Business.” In 2023, the American Bar Association awarded her the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, which recognizes “female lawyers who have excelled in their field and paved the way for other women.”

She also received the National Association of Women Lawyers’ 2023 M. Ashley Dickerson Diversity Award, for “her commitment to forging a path to leadership for women and diverse attorneys to follow.” 

Saturday, May 11, 3 p.m.; Dr. Christopher J.L. Murray, founding director, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and professor and chair, Department of Health Metrics Sciences, University of Washington

The Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine ceremony

Murray’s fascination with health began when he was just 10, at a small hospital his parents founded in Africa. And as he studied biology as an undergraduate at Harvard University, international health economics as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in 1987, and, returning to Harvard, earned his M.D., his understanding of health expanded.

As a physician, health economist, and founding director of the independent Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, Murray has developed innovative health assessment methods, advanced research integrity, and bridged the science-policy divide.

Murray is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and a co-recipient of the John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award. He has published more than 500 journal articles and written or edited 16 books.