Former President Jeremy Travis Honored with a Portrait for the “Hall of Presidents”

Former President Jeremy Travis Honored with a Portrait for the “Hall of Presidents”

Former President Jeremy Travis Honored with a Portrait for the “Hall of Presidents”

The lobby in the Gerald W. Lynch Theater will soon be featuring a “Hall of Presidents” art exhibit. The thought behind the forthcoming installation—including paintings and sculptures of former John Jay Presidents—is to honor our Presidents’ valuable contributions to the institution, while also reminding the community about the College’s long legacy of advocating for justice. The newest creation in this collection is a portrait of Jeremy Travis, President Emeritus of John Jay College. At the official unveiling of the painting, our extended community came out in force on April 29 to celebrate Travis’ 13 years at the College.

Beshar and Brown unveiling Travis’ portrait
Beshar and Brown unveiling Travis’ portrait

 “Under Jeremy, John Jay really started to come into its full potential,” said Lynette Cook-Francis, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs. “He was responsible for many of the things that make John Jay what it is today. From the addition of community hour, a shift toward a greater focus in faculty and student engagement, and the inclusion of multiple forms of justice in curricula, all of these things that make John Jay so special are because of him.” 

Mason telling the crowd how she worked with Travis at the D.O.J.
Mason telling the crowd how she worked with Travis at the DOJ

“Jeremy Travis has this vision about what the world should look like, and how it should operate. He brought that vision to John Jay. It’s our job to make sure that we continue this work.” —Karol V. Mason

Thoughts from President Karol V. Mason
“We are here because of Jeremy. The stated reason is because of the unveiling of his portrait, but the unstated reason is what he has done for John Jay,” said President Karol V. Mason, opening the event. “Jeremy, you have to listen to us talk about you and celebrate you, because that’s what this is, it’s a celebration. I hope that you see from the range of folks in this room, how important you are to all of us and to John Jay.” Mason went on to say that when she was at the United States Department of Justice, Travis wrote her a letter after Trayvon Martin was killed. “He talked about an opportunity the Justice Department had in the wake of Trayvon Martin, and what we could do to rebuild trust with communities,” said Mason. His letter incorporated ideas on the principals of procedural justice, and featured information on racial reconciliation and implicit bias. It helped inform Mason’s team, prompting them to write a proposal that could put Travis’ ideas into action. The day it was announced that they had raised six million dollars to initiate a plan based on his letter, “Travis had tears in his eyes and he was smiling,” said Mason. “That was the most special moment. I tell you this story to say that Jeremy Travis has this vision about what the world should look like, and how it should operate. He brought that vision to John Jay. It’s our job to make sure that we continue this work.”   

Peter Beshar
Beshar

“When you look at all the work that Jeremy has done, it’s clear that it was his destiny to be President of John Jay.” —Peter Beshar

Thoughts from Peter Beshar, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Marsh & McLennan Companies, and Trustee John Jay College Foundation
When John Jay Trustee Peter Beshar took to the stage, you could tell how much he admired Travis not only for his commitment to elevating the institution academically, but also for his vision to offer higher education opportunities to underrepresented populations. “During this man’s remarkable 13-year tenure as the President of John Jay, these are the elements that really stood out. He raised the excellence of this institution both in the faculty and the students,” said Beshar. “John Jay became a senior college. He added renown teachers, the College became a Macaulay Honors institution, and he introduced more majors. Most importantly, really at a time of income inequality, this College became an engine for social mobility particularly for students of color. When you look at all the work that Jeremy has done, it’s clear that it was his destiny to be President of John Jay.” 

Brown expressing her appreciation for Travis
Brown expressing her appreciation for Travis

“Had President Travis not fought to bring his vision to life, I would not have been on track and well prepared to take the next steps towards my career.”—Cataydra Brown

Thoughts from Cataydra Brown ’19
Offering her appreciation, John Jay senior Cataydra Brown told the crowd how Travis played a vital role in her academic journey. He established her current major, Law and Society, and her minor, Africana Studies, and he instituted the Vera Fellows Program, which has been a critical key to her success at John Jay. “President Travis definitely has a legacy here. His vision for the Vera Fellows was integral to not only my success but the success of so many other students,” said Brown. “Had President Travis not fought to bring his vision to life, I would not have been on track and well prepared to take the next steps towards my career.” She credits her participation in programs like the Vera Fellows for helping her aim high in her future endeavors, like participating in the New York City Urban Fellows Program. “I will be placed in a City agency, working for nine months with a cohort of 25 other students,” said Brown. “After the Urban Fellows Program, I plan to get a dual degree, a master’s in Public Policy and a J.D. My ultimate goal is to have a seat in office within the next five years.”

Jeremy Travis

Thoughts from Jeremy Travis, President Emeritus
Before discussing his journey to becoming President of John Jay College, Travis turned to Brown, letting her know that her story is symbolic of the evolution of the College. “You and your story represent the transformation of the College. Neither your major nor your minor was available 15 years ago. You are also a Jeannette K. Watson Fellow. When we first approached that foundation and asked them to be a member, they said, ‘You are not a liberal arts college.’ Eventually they came around. The Vera Fellows Program also didn’t exist. And, even the ability to study abroad didn’t exist,” said Travis. “So, I say that to express that there are many students like you who have taken advantage of the new John Jay, and have gotten the use that I feel you are getting. You are in many ways emblematic of the College.”   

Through his work in government and in criminal justice, Travis always had his eye on John Jay College. But having never been a full-time faculty member, dean, or provost, he believed his chance at being President of the College was highly unlikely. “Through my work, I intersected with John Jay frequently and always thought that the College was an undervalued asset, poised for the next level of excellence,” said Travis. “But the idea that I could be the President of John Jay, who might make that happen, was always improbable to me.”

Travis thanking Brown for her remarks
Travis thanking Brown for her remarks

“The greatest gift of our return was being so warmly welcomed by the vibrant, determined, deeply-committed community, known as John Jay.”—Jeremy Travis

However impossible it seemed to him, Travis never gave up hope. During the 10 years that he lived in Washington D.C., people would often ask him if he would ever consider moving back to New York City. And, while he and his wife had great jobs and his daughters were in good schools, his answer was always the same. “I would tell them, ‘If I became President of John Jay College, I would move back in a New York minute,’” said Travis. After becoming one of four finalists and ultimately being named President, Travis and his family started a new exciting chapter in their lives. “The greatest gift of our return was being so warmly welcomed by the vibrant, determined, deeply-committed community, known as John Jay.”

Travis and his wife, Susan Herman
Travis and his wife, Susan Herman

More scenes from the event: