E Street Band’s Steve Van Zandt will be Rutgers University’s 2017 commencement speaker

Steve Van Zandt. Photo: Renegade Nation.

Musician, actor, human rights activist and radio host Steve Van Zandt has been chosen as the 251st anniversary commencement speaker for Rutgers University, school officials announced today. He will receive an honorary degree at the May 14 ceremony at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway.

Growing up in the same New Jersey shore scene as Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny Lyon, Van Zandt helped form the Asbury Jukes in 1974. He was a member of Springsteen’s early bands, joining the E Street Band in 1975. He worked closely with Springsteen, co-producing The River and Born in the U.S.A., while also producing and writing material for Southside Johnny and Gary U.S. Bonds. In 1982, he branched out as Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul. Although he officially left the E Street Band in 1984, he rejoined it in 1999 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an E Street Band member in 2014.

In 1999, having no previous professional acting experience, Van Zandt was tapped for the role of Silvio Dante in HBO’s “The Sopranos,” which he played for all seven seasons of the hit series. In February 2012, he co-wrote, was executive producer and starred in Netflix’s first original series, Lilyhammer. In 2002, Van Zandt created the internationally syndicated radio show Little Steven’s Underground Garage. He is creator and executive producer of The Underground Garage and Outlaw Country on SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

Van Zandt has used his worldwide presence to address domestic and international causes. In 1985, he established Artists United Against Apartheid and enlisted other musicians – including Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Hall & Oates, Run-D.M.C., Miles Davis, Bono and Springsteen – to record the album Sun City, which protested South Africa’s policy of racial segregation. That same year, he established the Solidarity Foundation to promote the sovereignty of indigenous peoples. Lamenting the trend of funding cuts for arts education in local schools, Van Zandt established the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation to provide no-cost lesson plans and educational materials to middle- and high-school teachers through its curriculum initiative, TeachRock.org.

Harvey Makadon, director of the National LGBT Health Education Center and the National Center for Innovation in HIV Care, also will receive an honorary degree during the ceremony.

As a physician, educator, and advocate,  Makadon has devoted his career to providing and promoting care for the poor, the homeless, patients living with HIV, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. As director of education and training programs at the Fenway Institute and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, he continues to teach health care providers across the nation how to better serve the LGBTQ and HIV communities and improve access to quality care.

In 1969, Makadon earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and briefly considered law school before taking a job advocating for Medicaid reform. The work inspired him to pursue a career in medicine and improve the quality of care and access to care for poor people. After receiving a medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1977, Makadon began his residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. He then joined the hospital’s faculty primary care practice, where he served for more than 29 years, and became a member of the clinical faculty in the department of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

In the early 1980s with the beginning of the AIDS crisis, he refocused his professional life on issues regarding the quality of health care for the LGBTQ community and those suffering from AIDS. At Beth Israel, he set up the first hospital-based HIV program in the country integrated into a primary care practice. He founded the Boston AIDS Consortium to help coordinate needed services for patients. In addition to coordinating and providing care, Makadon worked to tear down the social stigma that restricted access to care for LGBTQ people, with a goal of ending health care disparities. He founded the New England AIDS Education and Training Center to teach health care professionals best practices in care of individuals living with HIV/AIDS. At Harvard Medical School, he was responsible for updating the HIV curriculum and for addressing sexual history aspects of the patient-doctor interview. Today, Makadon is focusing his attention on transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, particularly youth and adolescents, and ending LGBTQ invisibility in health care by advocating for the routine collection of sexual orientation and gender identity information in health records.


Carla Hayden, the first woman and the first African American to serve as the U.S. Librarian of Congress, will deliver the keynote address and receive an honorary degree from Rutgers University-Camden at the school’s commencement ceremony at the BB&T Pavilion on May 17.


Eboo Patel, chief executive officer of the global nonprofit organization Interfaith Youth Core, will receive an honorary degree and be the speaker at the Rutgers University-Newark’s commencement ceremony at the Prudential Center May 17.

He will be joined by Arthur James Hicks, program director of the National Science Foundation’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, who will receive an honorary degree for his efforts to strengthen the quality and quantity of underrepresented minority students who graduate with degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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