Renowned Civil Rights Litigator Mary L. Bonauto and Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist/Activist Jose Antonio Vargas to Receive Honorary Degrees and Address the Class of 2017

Renowned Civil Rights Litigator Mary L. Bonauto and Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist/Activist Jose Antonio Vargas to Receive Honorary Degrees and Address the Class of 2017

Renowned Civil Rights Litigator Mary L. Bonauto and Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist/Activist Jose Antonio Vargas to Receive Honorary Degrees and Address the Class of 2017

New York, NY, May 1, 2017 – Led by President Jeremy Travis, who is stepping down after 13 years of outstanding leadership, students, alumni, faculty and guests will gather at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, N.Y., for John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s 52nd Commencement exercises on Wednesday, May 31, at 10:30 AM and 3:30 PM. Honorary doctorates will be presented to Mary L. Bonauto, a principal legal architect of marriage equality in the United States, and Jose Antonio Vargas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and immigration reform activist, who will also address the graduating class.

Through their work in law, journalism, and social advocacy, the 2017 honorees have demonstrated their commitment to the cause of justice.

Mary L. BonautoWith her skills inside and outside the courtroom, Mary Bonauto has led in efforts to win full marriage and family equality for the LGBT community. Bonauto’s advocacy for gays and lesbians began in 1990 when she became the chief litigator for the GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD.  In 1999, GLAD partnered with Vermont co-counsel to win the first major battle for equal marriage rights in Baker v. Vermont, resulting in a state system for same-sex couples to obtain marital protections and obligations. Bonauto was at the helm of GLAD’s legal team when it won the case for full-fledged marriage equality in the United States in Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health in 2003. She worked on numerous cases and legislative and ballot efforts to win marriage and defeat discriminatory measures.  After more state challenges began to find success, she and GLAD turned their attention toward ending “DOMA” and federal discrimination against married same-sex couples, as well as requiring states to allow same-sex couples to marry under the federal constitution.  Bonauto’s leadership of the marriage equality movement was made most apparent by her being chosen as lead counsel for the oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges. Bonauto won that case, and full marriage equality became the law of the land in the United States in 2015.

Jose Antonio VargasWell-known for his advocacy for human rights, Jose Antonio Vargas is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a filmmaker, and an activist.  In 2011, he wrote an essay for The New York Times Magazine in which he disclosed his undocumented immigration status and jump-started a national conversation on the experiences of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. While attending San Francisco State University, Vargas interned for the Philadelphia Daily News before becoming a full-time staff reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. For five years he was a reporter at the Washington Post, where he was part of the news team that covered the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, the assignment that earned him the Pulitzer Prize. He eventually became a Senior Contributing Editor for the Huffington Post, overseeing the launch of the technology and college verticals, and he has written for Rolling Stone, the New Yorker and The Atlantic. After writing his New York Times essay in 2011, Jose founded the organization Define American — a nonprofit media organization that uses storytelling and specially curated events to shift the way society discusses immigration and issues like racial identity.  He transformed his life story into the documentary film "Documented,” which was released in theaters in 2014 and was broadcast on CNN. His next film project was producing and directing "White People," an Emmy Award-nominated MTV special. At great personal risk, he stepped forward to give voice to the millions of immigrants that live on the margins of society as undocumented persons. In his role as CEO, he is producing the second annual Define American Film Festival, taking place in Charlotte, NC May 11-13.

For more information about John Jay’s Commencement ceremonies, visit

Profiles of Honorary Degree Recipients

10:30 A.M. Ceremony – Speaker and Honorary Degree: Doctor of Law

Mary L. Bonauto, is a renowned litigator and civil rights advocate who has been the Civil Rights Project Director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders since 1990. She has litigated in the state and federal courts of New England on discrimination issues, parental and children’s rights, free speech and religious liberty, and relationship recognition. In 2015 she successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the historic case Obergefell v. Hodges, establishing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples nationwide. Bonauto and two co-counsel won a 1999 ruling in Baker v. State of Vermont that led to the nation’s first civil union law.  She was lead counsel in the groundbreaking case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which in 2004 made Massachusetts the first state where same-sex couples could legally marry. She was also co-counsel in Kerrigan v. Department of Public Health, in which the Connecticut Supreme Court also ruled for marriage. Bonauto led GLAD’s federal court challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) leading to the first federal court rulings against DOMA, and then coordinated amici briefs for the Windsor case at the Supreme Court.  As a member of the legal team in the Michigan marriage case DeBoer v. Snyder, she became the Supreme Court oral-argument presenter on behalf of the plaintiffs in Obergefell. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the 2014 MacArthur Fellowship. She is the Shikes Fellow in Civil Liberties and Civil Rights and Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, serves on an advisory board for the American Constitution Society and has also served as co-chair of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section on Individual Rights and Responsibilities.

3:30 P.M. Ceremony – Speaker and Honorary Degree: Doctor of Humane Letters

Jose Antonio Vargas, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, filmmaker, and media entrepreneur whose work centers on the changing American identity. He is the founder and CEO of Define American, a nonprofit media and culture organization that seeks to elevate the conversation around immigration and citizenship in America; and the founder of #EmergingUS, a media start-up that lives at the intersection of race, immigration, and identity in a multicultural America. In June 2011, the New York Times Magazine published a groundbreaking essay he wrote in which he revealed and chronicled his life in America as an undocumented immigrant. He then produced and directed “Documented,” a documentary feature film on his undocumented experience, which received a 2015 NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Documentary. Vargas’s second documentary film, “White People,” has expanded his focus to race relations. He has written for daily newspapers (Philadelphia Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle) and national magazines (Rolling Stone, The New Yorker), and was a Senior Contributing Editor at the Huffington Post, where he launched the Technology and College sections. Prior to that, he covered tech and video game culture, HIV/AIDS in the nation’s capital, and the 2008 presidential campaign for the Washington Post, and was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for covering the Virginia Tech massacre. In 2007, Politico named him one of 50 Politicos to Watch. Among other accolades he has received are: a Public Service Award from the National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Latino advocacy organization; the Salem Award from the Salem Award Foundation, which draws upon the lessons of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692; and the Freedom to Write Award from PEN Center USA.