Joseph Patrick Kennedy III, the U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs, former congressman, and a career public servant, will address graduates at Fordham’s 179th Commencement on May 18 at the Rose Hill campus. Kennedy will receive an honorary doctorate of laws at the ceremony.

Joseph P. Kennedy IIIAs U.S. Special Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs, Kennedy is working to promote peace, prosperity, and stability throughout the region. Before assuming this role in 2022, he was a four-term member of Congress who represented the 4th Congressional District in his home state of Massachusetts.

He is also a grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, who once famously urged Fordham graduates to be agents of good in a world “aflame with the desires and hatreds of multitudes” during his own commencement address at the University, in 1967, when he was a U.S. senator from New York.

“I’m excited and grateful that we’ll be hearing from Joe Kennedy as we celebrate our graduates on May 18,” said Tania Tetlow, president of Fordham University. “His work in Northern Ireland points to an important truth about our bitterly divided times. The process of achieving peace and stability in this region offers hope for defusing even the most intractable conflicts, and we commend him for his efforts to sustain this progress.”

Tetlow noted how Kennedy’s career echoes the intentions behind the founding of Fordham. Archbishop John Hughes—who was Irish American, like the Kennedy family—established Fordham in 1841 as part of his efforts to create opportunity for struggling immigrants from the Emerald Isle. “The experience of the Irish, in their homeland and in America, has special resonance for us at Fordham,” she said.

A Career of Service

Kennedy graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Law School, spent two years in the Peace Corps, and worked as an Assistant District Attorney in Massachusetts before winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012. In Congress, Kennedy “built an impressive legislative record around economic policy, health care, and civil rights,” according to the U.S. State Department website. 

Kennedy also serves as President of the nonprofit Citizens Energy, which meets low-income families’ energy needs, and is the founder of Groundwork Project, an advocacy group that supports community organizing in historically disenfranchised areas. He is a board member of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Harvard Institute of Politics, and the Massachusetts Association of Mental Health.

On May 18, he will become the fifth Kennedy to receive an honorary degree from Fordham. His grandfather received one in 1961, when he was U.S. Attorney General, six years before giving his commencement address. His great-uncle John F. Kennedy received an honorary degree at a Fordham Law Alumni Association luncheon in 1958 as a U.S. senator, two years before being elected president of the United States. His great-uncle Ted Kennedy, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, received an honorary degree and delivered the commencement address in June 1969. And his great-aunt Jean Kennedy Smith, U.S. ambassador to Ireland from 1993 to 1998, received an honorary degree at Fordham’s commencement in 1995, when the speaker was Mary Robinson, president of Ireland at the time.

Two other members of the Kennedy family received honorary doctorates from Fordham and delivered a commencement address at Rose Hill: Special Olympics chairman Timothy Shriver, Ph.D., in 2019, and his father, Sargent Shriver, the first leader of the Peace Corps, in 1963.

In announcing Joe Kennedy’s appointment as U.S. Special Envoy, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken noted the United States’ commitment to supporting “the peace dividends of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement,” referring to the 1998 accords that largely ended the political violence in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles.  

“Joe has dedicated his career to public service,” and “he will draw from his extensive experience to support economic growth in Northern Ireland and to deepen U.S. engagement with all communities,” Blinken said.

The 2017 departure of the United Kingdom—which includes Northern Ireland—from the European Union has led to trade and border disputes with the Irish Republic, as well as calls for reunification of Ireland. 

Speaking last year in Belfast, Northern Ireland, at a conference marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, Kennedy noted the importance of overcoming divisions and building shared prosperity. 

“If there’s a place on this planet that is resilient, that is capable, that is clear-eyed and scrappy enough to take on this challenge, it is the shores we stand on today,” he said. “You have wrestled through hundreds of years of division, tribe and tradition, country and creed, pain, hurt, and loss, and you are still here. You are building a Northern Ireland where the troubles of the past give way to the triumphs of tomorrow.”



Chris Gosier is a senior editor in the marketing and communications department and associate editor of FORDHAM magazine. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or [email protected].