Rosalind Gates Brewer, (Spelman College, Class of ’84), group president Americas and chief operating officer for Starbucks, has been named commencement speaker for the Spelman College class of 2018.

As the first alumna to serve as commencement speaker in 30 years, since Marian Wright Edelman, (Spelman College, Class of ’60), addressed the graduating class of 1988, Brewer will address 472 graduates and 8,000 of their family and friends during the ceremony on Sunday, May 20, at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta.

Brewer is a proven C-suite executive with more than 30 years of experience leading some of the world’s largest and most recognized public companies.

Throughout her distinguished career, she has achieved several notable firsts, including being the first woman and first African American to hold the role of COO at Starbucks.

Brewer also made history when she joined Sam’s Club in 2012, the $56 billion members-only warehouse channel of Walmart Inc., by becoming the first woman and first African American to lead a Walmart division.

Brewer has repeatedly been named one of the world’s most powerful women by Fortune and Forbes, ranking No. 19 and No. 57 respectively in 2016. She also serves on the board of directors for Starbucks and chairs the Spelman College Board of Trustees.

“Rosalind Brewer is a stellar example of the Spelman woman, one who has made a significant impact not only as a businesswoman but as a global citizen,” said Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D. “She has forged a path that has led to numerous successes in corporate America and has served as an exceptional chair of the Spelman College Board of Trustees. We are pleased to have someone who confidently knows her own voice and strengths, and who as STEM major and Spelman alumna, can share her experience with the class of 2018.”

Brewer helms Starbucks operating businesses across the Americas (Canada, U.S., and Latin America) as well as the global functions of many supply chain, product innovation and store development organizations.

In addition to serving as president and CEO of Sam’s Club, her past senior leadership positions include six years in executive roles for Walmart and 22 years at Kimberly-Clark where she worked her way up from scientist to the president of the Global Nonwovens Sector.

As a corporate leader and mentor, Brewer has been intentional in her efforts to create roadmaps and reduce barriers for those within her sphere of influence as it relates to the success of the organizations where she’s held leadership roles.

“I count among my successes the individuals who have been promoted, the entrepreneurs who now own their own businesses and the executives who are now corporate leaders in their own right,” she said.

She also views her fellow alumnae and Spelman trustees as an integral part of her circle of champions.

“During my time on the board of trustees, I have had the opportunity to serve alongside Spelman alumnae including Yvonne Jackson (Class of ’70), Jerri DeVard (Class of ’79), Lovette Russell (Class of ’83), and Celeste Watkins-Hayes, Ph.D. (Class of ’96),” Brewer said. “These women modeled, far beyond our graduation, the lessons we learned at Spelman about the power of sisterhood, authenticity, and truth in the face of adversity.

“These lessons and their faith in me and words of advice and encouragement helped me to stand in my truth at some of the most challenging times in my career,” she continued.

Brewer earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Spelman in 1984 and attended Wharton’s Advanced Management Program and Stanford University’s Directors’ College.

The recipient of the Spelman College Legacy of Leadership award, she continues to give back her alma mater in numerous ways, including establishing the Rosalind Gates Brewer Scholarship in 2013, which has supported nine first-generation college students to date, serving on the class of 1984’s Reunion planning committee and working with the College on student recruitment and mentoring initiatives. 


Honorary Degree Recipient – Bryan Stevenson, founding executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative

Bryan Stevenson, founding executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and a professor of law at New York University School of Law will receive an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Stevenson has won relief for dozens of condemned prisoners, argued five times before the Supreme Court, and won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color. He has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.

Stevenson is the author of “Just Mercy,” and through the Equal Justice Initiative, the force behind the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery.


National Community Service Award Recipient – Lonnie G. Bunch III, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

Lonnie G. Bunch III, historian, acclaimed author, and director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will receive the National Community Service Award.

The Museum is a place of collaboration that reaches beyond Washington, D.C. to engage new audiences and to work with the myriad of museums and educational institutions that have explored and preserved African American life, history and culture.

As the museum’s director, Bunch develops exhibitions and public programs and coordinates the museum’s fundraising and budget development. Under Bunch’s leadership, the museum opened seven exhibitions in its gallery located in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

The museum’s traveling exhibition, “Changing America,” will be exhibited at 50 venues across the country through 2018.

Rosalind Brewer
Rosalind Brewer

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