Anna Sui will receive an honorary degree from The New School at the university’s 81st commencement exercises on May 19.
Also receiving honorary degrees are Ai-jen Poo, an activist on behalf of domestic workers and the elderly, and Barbara Hillary, an explorer and cancer survivor, who at the age of 75, was the first African-American woman to reach the North Pole.
The graduation, which will be presided over by President David E. Van Zandt, takes place at the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens. The New School’s graduation ceremony is the first-ever non-tennis event to be held at the Arthur Ashe Stadium. The ceremony will be broadcast live on Livestream.
Sui, who attended but never graduated from The New School’s Parsons School of Design, is known for her blend of vintage, glamour and cutting-edge style. The designer has opened more than 50 boutiques in eight countries, launched cosmetics, fragrances, shoe and accessory lines, and designed products for Samsung, Google and Starbucks. In 2009, Sui won the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
“It’s kind of a funny story,” said Sui, who added she is very excited to be receiving this degree. “When my nephew was graduating a couple of years ago [from Johns Hopkins] we were at his graduation and I was there with my mom. She turned to me and said, ‘And when are you going to get your degree?’ And I’m like, ‘mom, really?’ And she said, ‘Yes, it’s important.'”
Sui said her mom would be attending the graduation ceremony. Sui went to Parsons for two years and got hired right out of school. She worked for a company called Charlie’s Girls. “I loved this designer [Erica Elias]. She was happening at that moment. She had a very European sensibility, she was from Europe and she was the best thing that ever happened and was probably one of the toughest bosses in the business. I learned so much from her,” said Sui.
Poo, who cofounded Domestic Workers United, worked to ensure New York State passed the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in 2010, a law ensuring workers’ rights to an eight-hour workday with overtime pay, guaranteed rest days and mandated protection under the state’s human rights laws. Poo was a 2014 recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant.
Hillary, after surviving lung cancer and a surgery that caused her to lose 25 percent of her breathing capacity, decided to make her record-setting trek to the North Pole at the age of 75; five years later, she traveled to the South Pole. She also founded The Peninsula magazine, a nonprofit publication, and the Arverne Action Association, a group dedicated to improving the lives of people in the Rockaway Peninsula community. She also lectures about the dangerous effects of global climate change, which she experienced first hand during her travels.
The New School’s Class of 2017 is comprised of more than 2,000 associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral graduates in arts and design, the social sciences, the humanities, management and performing arts.