Mannie Jackson named to address graduates, families


Photo courtesy of Illinois Sports Information

By Meghan O'Kelly

Mannie Jackson, a 1960 University alumnus and current chairman and owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, has been named speaker at the University’s Commencement ceremonies. The ceremonies will be held on May 11 at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Assembly Hall.

Jackson, a former member of the Illinois basketball team, also serves as chairman of Boxcar Financial Holding of Las Vegas and has served on the board of directors of six Fortune 500 companies.

Jackson said he is honored and proud to have been invited to speak at a ceremony of an institution of such prestige.

“As a child, I was always looking up to what could be,” he said, reflecting on his childhood in Edwardsville, Ill. “I thought it would be one of the most important events of my life if I were to accept.”

Jackson said he has been visiting the University frequently within the last 10 years. Earlier this year, he donated $2 million to create the Mannie L. Jackson Illinois Academic Enrichment and Leadership Program. He said the program provides students in the College of Applied Health Sciences with mentoring and guidance whose circumstances or financial wherewithal do not allow them to be ready for college when the time comes to enroll as a student. During his visit, Jackson said Chancellor Richard Herman extended the offer to serve as Commencement speaker.

Although he splits his time between Las Vegas and Phoenix, Jackson said he enjoys a strong sense of comfort when he returns to his home state of Illinois.

“All of the memories come back and it’s a good experience for me,” he said. “I’ve become a part of (the University) again.”

“People who graduate today, in 2008, are not unlike the people who graduated in the early ’60s,” Jackson said, explaining that society is at a point of transition. “There are a lot of similarities between these times and those times.”

Babette Hiles, the University’s director of special events, said Jackson will attend a dinner hosted by the Chancellor on May 10 that honors Commencement VIPs and honorary degree recipients.

While Jackson is on campus for the weekend, he said he also plans on visiting with the Black Students Association, the College of Applied Health Sciences and the Athletic Department, including Bruce Weber. A seasoned public speaker, Jackson said he has not yet written his remarks for the ceremony.

“I’d lose the opportunity to be relevant at the moment,” he said.

Jackson’s other notable achievements include being one of the first African-American Illinois Varsity letter recipients, serving as the Illinois basketball team’s first African-American captain and moving on to play for the Globetrotters from 1962 to 1964. He attended graduate school at the University of Detroit and later accepted a position at Honeywell, Inc., where he eventually became senior vice president. In 1993, he was named one of the nation’s 40 most powerful and influential black executives by Black Enterprise magazine.

“I’m looking forward to spending time talking to the graduating class and the people attending Commencement,” he said. “This is a realization that I could have an impact on other people and that means a lot.”

Photo courtesy of Illinois Sports Information