A shrewd corporate executive, a forceful activist, a risk-taking producer and a philanthropist will receive the university’s top commencement awards Friday.
Robert A. Iger, chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Co., community organizer Sweet Alice Harris, producer Norman Lear and philanthropist Harlyne J. Norris will receive the Doctor of Humane Letters hood at the 125th annual ceremony.
Iger, this year’s commencement speaker, will receive the hood from USC Marshall School of Business Dean James Ellis.
Lear, Harris and Norris will receive their hoods from USC Annenberg Dean Ernest J. Wilson III, Keck School of Medicine of USC Dean Carmen Puliafito and USC School of Social Work Dean Marilyn Flynn, respectively.
Robert A. Iger
Doctor of Humane Letters
A talented and insightful leader, Robert Iger is president and chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Co. He was named the sixth CEO of the global entertainment company in 2005 after previously directing Disney’s worldwide operations as its president and chief operating officer.
Since becoming CEO, Iger oversaw Disney’s $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios. In addition to building on Disney’s roots in animation, his other two priorities for the company have been international expansion and technological innovation.
Iger is a veteran of ABC, having begun his career there in 1974 as a studio supervisor for daytime television. Working his way through the management ranks, he has held various positions at ABC Sports, the ABC Television Network Group and ABC Entertainment, and he has directed the network’s prime-time programming and its radio, publishing and cable television businesses and brands, which include ESPN, Lifetime, A&E, and the History Channel.
As president and chief operating officer of ABC’s corporate parent Capital Cities/ABC, he guided the media company’s complex merger with Disney. He officially joined the company’s senior management team in 1996 when he became chairman of the Disney-owned ABC Group and president of Walt Disney International.
In 2005, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences recognized Iger for his excellence in leadership with its highest honor, the Trustees Award. He is also the 2006 recipient of MarketWatch’s CEO of the Year Award.
A native of New York, Iger grew up on Long Island, worked as the sports editor for his high school newspaper and graduated magna cum laude from Ithaca College in 1973 with a degree in television-radio. He later served his alma mater as a trustee.
He is currently a trustee of the American Film Institute and a member of the board of directors of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He is also on the executive advisory board of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
His wife is television journalist and author Willow Bay.
Sweet Alice Harris
Doctor of Humane Letters
A prominent community activist in Los Angeles, Alice Harris has dedicated her life to mentoring youth and providing assistance to people who are disadvantaged or underserved. She is the executive director of Parents of Watts, a social services organization that she started out of her home in the mid-1960s as a way to alleviate tensions in her culturally diverse neighborhood after the 1965 riots.
The nonprofit organization, which was incorporated in 1983, encourages children to stay in school and avoid drugs. Operating on a shoestring budget out of eight homes on Lou Dillon Avenue, the organization’s programs provide emergency food and shelter for the homeless, prepare teenagers for college and the job market, and offer drug counseling, health seminars and parenting classes.
Affectionately known as Sweet Alice for her generosity and empathy, Harris collects toys and clothing that she distributes to children each Christmas. She is a highly regarded neighborhood advocate who works closely with elected officials and often serves as a liaison between parents and their children’s schools.
She is well-known for speaking her mind in a pursuit of equal services and opportunities for her fellow residents and for countering any resistance she gets from uncooperative parents, school administrators or city officials with her trademark question: “Do you want to be part of the building crew or the wrecking crew?”
Many of the children she has mentored through her organization’s programs have gone on to attend college. She herself took college courses in sociology and child development when she could and was awarded a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills.
Harris is the recipient of many honors, including the prestigious Minerva Award, which was created in 2004 by California first lady Maria Shriver to honor remarkable women. In 2002, Harris was named the state lieutenant governor’s Woman of the Year by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.
Born in Alabama in 1934, Harris studied cosmetology and later operated her own beauty shop in Detroit before moving to Los Angeles in the late 1950s. As a teenager, she experienced poverty, homelessness and single motherhood. In talking about her dedication to helping others, she is quoted in Essence magazine as saying, “I do what I do because I was given a second chance.”
Doctor of Humane Letters
The creator of the award-winning series All in the Family, Norman Lear is a distinguished television and film producer as well as a successful businessman and philanthropist. His television shows are highly regarded for using humor and realism to spark public debate on controversial issues related to race, politics, religion, violence, women and the American family.
All in the Family, which was based on a British television series, premiered on CBS in 1971. It earned four Emmys for best comedy as well as a Peabody Award. Lear’s other groundbreaking sitcoms include Maude, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons and One Day at a Time.
During his early years, Lear wrote for comedy series and later produced feature films through a production company he co-founded. He is currently chairman of the multimedia holding company Act III Communications, and he supports educational and charitable causes through the Lear Family Foundation.
Over the years, Lear has given $13.1 million to USC — the majority of it going to the Norman Lear Center in the USC Annenberg School for Communication. Various topics examined by the research center, which was created as a result of his $5 million gift in 2000, include media coverage of political campaigns, the impact of technology on creativity and the use of entertainment to provide public health information.
A World War II veteran, Lear founded the nonprofit People for the American Way to promote constitutional rights and the Business Enterprise Trust, which recognized companies for exemplary social innovations.
He and his wife, Lyn Davis Lear, also created the Declaration of Independence Road Trip — a national multimedia tour that featured one of the original copies of the document, which they own, and resulted in Lear’s launch of a nonpartisan voter registration drive.
Among Lear’s numerous honors and awards are the Air Medal for his wartime service. He was among the first group of television pioneers inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. In 2007, USC established the Norman Lear Chair in Entertainment, Media and Society in his honor. The holder of the chair is professor Martin Kaplan, founding director of the Norman Lear Center.
In awarding Lear this nation’s highest artistic recognition — the National Medal of the Arts — in 1999, President Clinton noted, “Norman Lear has held up a mirror to American society and changed the way we look at it.”
Harlyne J. Norris
Doctor of Humane Letters
A leading philanthropist, USC trustee Harlyne J. Norris has distinguished herself through the generosity and guidance she provides the university and numerous organizations that support children, health care, medical research, education and the arts. She is executive vice president of the investment firm KTN Enterprises.
The Harlyne J. Norris Cancer Research Tower on USC’s Health Sciences campus is named in her honor.
Her family is well-known for its longtime dedication to USC and community enhancement. Norris has been a USC trustee since 2000, and she is a trustee and past chairman of the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation, which was established in 1963 by her husband’s parents, Kenneth Sr. and Eileen Norris.
Through the Norris Foundation, the Norris family has given nearly $50 million to USC.
A native of Southern California, Norris grew up in Santa Monica and attended UCLA. She was active in school and community groups as her children grew up. Her late husband, Ken Norris Jr., was a USC alumnus and trustee who played an instrumental role in the creation of the USC/Kenneth T. Norris Jr. Comprehensive Cancer Center — a facility that is renowned for its research and patient care.
The 10-story Harlyne J. Norris Cancer Research Tower is an expansion of the cancer center. Its opening in 2007 dramatically increased laboratory research space for the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Highly esteemed for her compassion and leadership, Norris is a member of the advisory board of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center as well as a trustee of Marymount College, an advisory board member of the Accelerated School and a board member of Little Company of Mary Hospital. She is also a director of Blue Ribbon, which supports the Los Angeles Music Center, and an overseer of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
She is a strong supporter of the Norris Performing Arts Center, Peninsula Education Foundation and Help the Homeless Help Themselves. Other beneficiaries of her generosity are the Blind Children’s Learning Center, Para Los Niños, the Boys and Girls Clubs and the California Institute of Technology.