Lisa Borders, Trinity ‘79 and former president of the WNBA and TIME'S UP, will address the Class of 2019 at Sunday’s Commencement ceremony.
Borders will join senior Leah Rosen, the student speaker, onstage to bid goodbye to more than 5,500 graduates.
“I am blessed to have been offered the opportunity to deliver this year’s Commencement Address,” Borders wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “The world is complex and dynamic. These new grads will be our Duke family’s most recent contribution to help enlighten, enable and elevate humanity.”
Growing up in Atlanta, Ga., as the granddaughter of influential pastor and civil rights leader William Holmes Borders, Sr., she would watch her grandfather preach as Martin Luther King Jr. sat in attendance. She became friends with King’s children, who also frequented her grandfather’s sermons, and is still close with them.
One of her most striking childhood memories was attending King’s funeral procession with her grandfather.
“I was probably 40 before I understood that was real history. And that I witnessed it,” she told Vanity Fair.
In 7th grade, Borders’ parents enrolled her as one of seven African Americans at Westminster School, a K-12 Christian academy that was integrating. Among more than 1,700 students at the school, Borders was seen as an outsider—nonetheless, she became a cheerleader and class president her junior year.
Borders enrolled at Duke in the mid-1970s originally planning to study chemistry and become a physician, following in her father and aunt’s footsteps. After a change of heart, she graduated from Duke in 1979 with a degree in French before moving to Boston and then back home to Atlanta.
She soon earned a master’s degree in health administration from the University of Colorado. Borders worked for two health care firms and founded her own consulting firm, but she moved on to politics in the early 2000s.
As president of the Atlanta City Council and vice mayor of Atlanta from 2004 to 2010, she played a role in forming the Atlanta Dream in Georgia’s capital as a WNBA expansion team.
From 2008 to 2013, she served as president of the Grady Health Foundation, where she oversaw a five-year campaign that brought in $325 million for the Grady Health System, Georgia’s largest public hospital.
Borders lost the race for Atlanta mayor in 2009 but became vice president of global community affairs at The Coca-Cola Company in 2013. She became a member of Duke’s Board of Trustees in 2015 and president of the WNBA one year later.
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Under her leadership, the WNBA had its highest regular season attendance in six years in 2017 and highest TV ratings in four years in 2018. The league also introduced the “Take a Seat, Take a Stand” initiative, for which it donates a portion of ticket sales to organizations focused on girls’ and women’s empowerment.
Borders resigned from her position with the WNBA in October 2018 to take the reins of TIME’S UP—an organization founded in response to accusations of abuse and misconduct in the entertainment industry.
Days after she was announced as the Commencement speaker in February, Borders resigned from her position as the organization’s inaugural CEO after her son was accused of sexual assault.
She currently serves as the CEO of the management consultant firm LMB Group, LLC, and chair of the Borders Commission, a task force of the United States Olympic Committee charged with reviewing the USOC’s interaction with the 49 national governing bodies and determining how the committee can better engage with athletes.
President Vincent Price praised Borders’ record with TIME’S UP and the Board of Trustees in a news release, explaining that these experiences would inform her speech to graduates.
“Lisa also serves as a Duke trustee, and I have been honored to have her wise counsel over the past two years,” he said in the release. “I know that her lifetime of courageous, purposeful leadership will inspire our graduates as they set out on their own lives and careers.”
For some Duke students, this won’t be the first time hearing Borders speak. Senior Anya Bali said in a news release that Borders spoke to the campus organization Business Oriented Women, and she was “funny, engaging and exciting to hear from.”
“She really has lived a life of courage and a life that speaks to changes and achievement and a lot of things that I think will resonate with Duke graduates,” Bali said.
Travis Dauwalter, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council for the 2018-2019 academic year, also praised the choice in the release.
“We are delighted that Lisa Borders was chosen as commencement speaker,” he said. “I’ve known her and met her only briefly as part of my work and her work on the Board of Trustees, and she’s a wonderful choice who will do a fantastic job.”
This is the third consecutive year a Duke graduate and Trustee will be delivering the Commencement address, as Border follows Apple CEO Tim Cook, Fuqua ‘88, and David Rubenstein, former chair of the Board of Trustees and Trinity ‘70, as speaker.
Nine Duke alumni have delivered addresses at the University’s Commencement ceremony since 1987, and Borders is slated to become the 10th Sunday.
“I am thrilled about celebrating our graduates as well as welcoming these newly accomplished and soon to be ‘alums’ into our ‘Forever Duke’ fold,” Borders wrote in her email. “My remarks will celebrate the 2019 Graduates and offer some lessons to navigate the challenges in their life’s journey,” she wrote.
Jake Satisky contributed reporting.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include the correct number of graduates at Commencement Sunday. The Chronicle regrets the error.