Telfar Clemens announced as 2023 Commencement speaker and honoree


@telfarglobal on Instagram

Jaeden Pinder, Executive Editor

The University announced on March 9 that fashion designer Telfar Clemens (‘08) will be the main speaker at this year’s Commencement on May 15. He will also receive an honorary degree at the ceremony celebrating the class of 2023. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Dr. Bruce H. Mann, Aldris Enis and Ivan G. Seidenberg (‘81) will also speak at specific school ceremonies.

Clemens is a Liberian-American fashion designer who founded his namesake brand TELFAR while studying at the University in 2005. The luxury brand is best known for its iconic Shopping Bags made with faux leather and capped at affordable prices, unlike other luxury handbags. For its accessible price tag and popularity in Brooklyn, the Shopping Bag has been dubbed “the Bushwick Birkin” and can be spotted on the shoulders of students across the New York City campus. Clemens received a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in business management from the Lubin School of Business in 2008.

Simar Kaur, the President of Pace Profashionals, was ecstatic about Clemens’s nomination. “I remember finding TELFAR my senior year of high school and trying for months to buy a bag. Right before I got to the University, I finally was able to buy one and it became my favorite bag ever! I use it for school, overnight trips, fashion internships, picnics, the list goes on and on! It’s just perfect!”

“It feels so full circle that Clemens is now speaking at my graduation ceremony! I am so beyond excited, especially as I [have] worked on establishing the Profashionals my whole time at the University.”

In 2017, the CFDA granted Clemens the American Fashion Fund (a value of $400,000) and once again awarded him in 2019 and 2020 as American Accessories Designer of the Year. Clemens’s success has spread to pop-up shops at NYC Rainbow locations and collaborations with UGG, Converse and White Castle, the latter of which all profits went toward supporting institutionalized teenagers’ bail funds on Rikers Island. In 2021, he designed the uniforms for the Liberian Olympic team at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Telfar prides itself on being a unisex and inclusive brand, its slogan reading “Not for you — for everyone.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Dr. Bruce H. Mann were also announced as honorary degree recipients of the Haub Law School, the former of who will speak at the school’s ceremony. Warren, a Democratic representative for Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate since 2013, ran in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries before endorsing her competitor President Joe Biden. She first advanced the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and her main focus as a legislator is economically-angled, and functions as a mouthpiece for middle-class families. Her husband, Dr. Mann, has taught at Harvard Law School since 2006.

Aldrin Enis is the President of One Hundred Black Men (OHBM), a non-profit founded in 1963 located in Harlem, which seeks to enrich and empower Black youth through personal, intellectual and economic development, as per their company mission. After his appointment in 2020, Enis reframed aspects of OHBM to focus on Black adolescent mental health. He will speak to the Lubin School of Business graduates and receive the Opportunitas in Action Award for his involvement with OHBM.

Ivan G. Seidenberg graduated from the University, earning his MBA in 1981. He previously served as the chairman and CEO of Verizon from 2000 to 2011. After donating $15 million to the University, the Seidenberg School of Computer Science was inscribed in his honor. Seidenberg spoke at the class of 2000’s commencement, where he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters due to his subsequent philanthropic endeavors.

At last year’s Commencement, Mayor Eric Adams spoke at the main ceremony and his nomination reciprocated significant backlash from the student body. Throughout his mayoral service, Adams has been criticized for reinstituting plainclothed NYPD officers, increasing police presence, an uptick in crime despite his “tough on crime” approach and clearing of homeless peoples’ encampments. Several students stood up and turned their backs to Adams during his speech in protest.

In contrast, this year’s lineup has already drawn remarkable excitement and praise. “Compared to last year, this is such big improvement. I felt so bad for the graduating seniors, given how much negative feedback Adams’s nomination was receiving. It is nice that the University listened to the people and picked someone who everyone is excited to hear speak,” Kaur said. Clemens’s return to the University and his hometown in Queens is likely to be a memorable Commencement.

Commencement will take place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, NY on May 15. For more information concerning Commencement 2023, visit the University’s graduation-dedicated website.