Sen. William “Mo” Cowan, D-Mass., will be the keynote speaker for the rescheduled celebration of Duke’s 50th anniversary of integration.

Cowan, Trinity ‘91, was appointed interim senator from Massachussetts Jan. 30, after Sen. John Kerry was tapped to be the new Secretary of State. He was invited by Duke to speak at the “Commemorating 50 Years of Black Students at Duke” event April 13 in Page Auditorium. The original celebration, slated for Jan. 25, was canceled due to an ice storm.

Cowan stood out as a “wonderful inspiration” to present and future students of color, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.

“He has a long standing commitment to service and to mentorship—really one of the highest ideals of the University,” Schoenfeld said. “Now he is able to demonstrate that on a national stage.”

After attending Duke, Cowan received his law degree from Northeastern University School of Law. Despite having lived and practiced law in Boston for many years, Cowan continues to be actively involved in Duke’s alumni affairs, serving as a mentor to dozens of students.

“Of all the people I have known since graduation, Mo is one of the more active mentors I’ve ever met,” said Winston Henderson, Engineering ’90, Law ’96 and an at-large director of the Duke Alumni Association. “In Boston in particular, he has been involved with alums of color and people in general. There are not many minorities who have not been sent to Mo.”

Henderson explained that Cowan provided a source of connection, advice and grounding to those he builds relationships with. Henderson has been friends with Sen. Cowan since their undergraduate years at Duke. He said they have remained close both personally and professionally.

“He is at the very least smart, passionate and a great communicator,” Henderson said. “Mo has a special way of fixing issues. People trust his analysis, ethics and judgement.”

Although former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank lobbied publicly for Kerry’s Senate seat, Gov. Deval Patrick appointed Sen. Cowan because of his experience as the governor’s chief of staff and chief legal counsel. Cowan has worked in the Patrick administration since 2009.

“Mo’s service on the front lines in our efforts to manage through the worst economy in 80 years and build a better, stronger Commonwealth for the next generation has earned him the respect and admiration of people throughout government,” Patrick said at a Jan. 30 press conference. “The people of the Commonwealth have benefited from his wisdom and good judgment during his time in our office, and will again in the Senate.”

Sen. Cowan is the second black senator to serve from Massachussetts and is one of two currently active black senators. His appointment marked the first instance in Senate history of two black senators serving at one time.

Massachusetts will hold a special election June 25 to formally elect a senator to Kerry’s seat. Sen. Cowan has announced that he is not interested in pursuing the position and will not seek re-election in the April 30 primaries. He currently lives in Stoughton, Massachusetts with his wife Stacy and their two sons.