President of the Ford Foundation, UT alumnus Darren Walker to deliver commencement address

Josh Willis and Jackie Wang

Darren Walker, UT alumnus and president of the Ford Foundation, will deliver the keynote address at the spring commencement ceremony on May 23, University administrators announced Friday.

Walker began his work in philanthropy at the Rockefeller Foundation. Before that, he spent time as a corporate and international finance lawyer and as chief operating officer of the Abyssinian Development Corporation in New York City. He started his work at the Ford Foundation, the second largest charitable organization in the U.S., as vice president in 2010. He became its president three years later.

Walker said he never set out to end up working in philanthropy.

“I was working in Harlem at the Abyssinian Development Corporation, and one day my phone rang,” Walker said. “Someone I knew at a foundation said she’d given my name to the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, and that’s how I got into philanthropy. It was a total happenstance.”

Walker, who lives in New York City, said he’ll always consider himself a Texan at heart. 

“I think I would say that I have always had a connection to Texas and to Austin and the University,” Walker said. “The University was so seminal in my own personal development. I feel such a personal connection to the Institution and to so many people who are still on campus. My UT networks still today are a foundation for me.”

Walker received a bachelor of arts in government, a bachelor of science in speech communication, and a law degree from UT.

President William Powers Jr. said in a press release Friday that Walker was an ideal choice for the keynote speaker.

“Darren is an inspirational alumnus whose life embodies the ideals we as a university strive to teach,” Powers said. “I’m delighted that our graduates will be getting the benefit of his deep wisdom.”

UT spokesperson Gary Susswein said Walker was an easy choice for the members of the speaker selection committee.

“He has got a phenomenal story to tell,” Susswein said. “If you look at his background, the adversity he overcame, everything he achieved at UT and the fact that he uses that UT education to help the world in so many ways, it’s just a great choice.”

Susswein said the University generally selects speakers who are UT alumni or have deep connections to the University.

“It’s something we look for,” Susswein said. “If [our students] see other people who are UT students [and] have gone on to change the world, it’s a powerful message to our graduates.”