Tufts University

Deval Patrick

[ Biography | Honorary Degree ]

Commencement 2009

A little more than 30 years ago, DEVAL PATRICK was a scholarship student at a prestigious prep school, delivering newspapers to nearby suburban homes to earn money. Today he lives in a house along his former paper route and commutes to the governor's office on Beacon Hill.

Patrick—a former U.S. assistant attorney general—made history in 2006 when he was elected the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. Since taking office, he has emphasized accessibility and transparency in government and encouraged greater civic engagement in the Commonwealth. During his career, he has worked with the United Nations in Darfur; litigated death-penalty and voting-rights cases for the NAACP; filled the top civil-rights post in the U.S. Justice Department; and reformed the culture at one of the country's largest corporations. He has been a top executive, an active public servant and an energizing political change agent.

"My journey here has been an improbable one," Patrick said in his 2007 inaugural address, shortly after taking the oath of office on a Bible that had been presented to John Quincy Adams by a group of rebellious African captives from the slave ship Amistad.

Patrick, 52, was raised by his mother in a tiny apartment on the tough, poverty-filled South Side of Chicago. An early memory was going to hear a speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: "I remember feeling connected to all these people who were like me—of limited means, but limitless hope. People build whole lives on hope," he recalled. He was a top student, and earned a scholarship to attend Milton Academy from the Boston-based organization A Better Chance.

He went on to Harvard College, and after graduation, spent a year with a United Nations youth training project in Sudan. He then attended Harvard Law School, and served as a law clerk to a federal appellate judge before going to work for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. While pursuing an NAACP voting-rights case in Arkansas, Patrick met then-Governor Bill Clinton; several years later, President Clinton appointed Patrick as assistant attorney general for civil rights.

From 1986 to 1994, Patrick worked for the Boston law firm of Hill & Barlow, becoming a partner in 1990 at the age of 34. At the Justice Department in the mid 1990s, he prosecuted cases involving hate crimes and abortion clinic violence; employment discrimination and the enforcement of fair-lending laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act. He led the largest criminal investigation prior to the September 11 attacks, probing church burnings throughout the South during the 1990s.

After his time with the Justice Department, he returned to private practice at the Boston firm of Day, Berry & Howard, and was also appointed by a federal district court to serve as the first chair of Texaco's Equality and Fairness Task Force, which was charged with implementing policy changes after the company settled charges of racial discrimination.

In 1999, Patrick became a vice president and general counsel at Texaco, leading the company's global legal affairs; in 2001, he joined the Coca-Cola Company as executive vice president and general counsel. He has served on numerous charitable and corporate boards and the Federal Election Reform Commission.

Patrick will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

This story originally ran on May 17, 2009.