Award-winning author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates will deliver the commencement address for the Northwestern Prison Education Program. This graduation marks the first time incarcerated students in the United States will be conferred a bachelor’s degree from a top 10 university.
The Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP) will hold its commencement ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 15 at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois.
“We are deeply honored to have Ta-Nehisi Coates as the commencement speaker for NPEP’s inaugural cohort of graduating bachelor’s degree students,” said Jennifer Lackey, the founding director of NPEP and Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy and professor of law (courtesy) at Northwestern University.
“Ta-Nehisi is an extraordinary writer and public intellectual who has inspired change and envisioned the world not as it is, but as it could and should be,” Lackey continued. “He is exceptionally well-suited to celebrate this profoundly significant moment for our students, Northwestern University, the Northwestern Prison Education Program and for the criminal legal system and all incarcerated people in the United States.”
Coates is the author of the bestselling books, “The Beautiful Struggle,” “We Were Eight Years in Power,” “The Water Dancer,” and “Between the World and Me,” which won the National Book Award in 2015. He was a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship that same year.
As a journalist and public intellectual with a career spanning over two decades, he’s written for The Washington City Paper, The Village Voice, The New Yorker and The New York Times on topics ranging from sports to reparations.
Coates also enjoyed a successful run writing Marvel’s “Black Panther” (2016-2021) and “Captain America” (2018-2021) comics series. He is currently writing the screenplays for the upcoming films “Wrong Answer,” “Superman,” and the film adaptation of his first fiction novel, “The Water Dancer.”
In the fall of 2022, Coates joined Howard University’s faculty as a writer-in-residence and the Sterling Brown Chair in the department of English.
“Northwestern is committed to the betterment of society through education, and NPEP provides an opportunity for incarcerated people to return to the community with a world-class liberal arts education,” said Northwestern Provost Kathleen Hagerty. “With Ta-Nehisi Coates as their commencement speaker, our hard-working graduates will hear from a public intellectual and creative force who will inspire them to do great things with what they have learned. I can’t think of a more energizing voice at this pivotal moment in their lives.”
NPEP is the only bachelor’s degree-granting program for incarcerated students offered by a top 10 university in the United States. Since 2018, it has partnered with Oakton College and the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) to deliver credit-bearing courses to incarcerated students.
“IDOC is excited to welcome Ta-Nehisi Coates to Stateville Correctional Center as the commencement speaker for the graduation of NPEP’s inaugural bachelor’s degree cohort,” said Latoya Hughes, acting director of the Illinois Department of Corrections. “As students hear from one of the most distinguished writers of our time, we hope they are empowered to use their knowledge to make positive changes in the world. We are proud to partner with Northwestern to provide these transformative educational opportunities.”
In January 2022, Northwestern admitted the inaugural class of NPEP students. Currently, there are approximately 100 students enrolled in NPEP across Stateville Correctional Center, a multi-level security state prison for men, and Logan Correctional Center, a multi-level security state facility for women located in Lincoln, Illinois.
Colin Hanner is a writer and media relations contact for the Northwestern Prison Education Program.