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2019 Speaker and Honorary Degree Information

Honorary Degree Recipient and Commencement Speaker

Bert Jacobs


Bert Jacobs ’87 CLAS is the co-founder and CEO (Chief Executive Optimist) of Life is Good. The company spreads the power of optimism through inspiring art, a passionate community, and groundbreaking nonprofit work.

Bert and his brother John launched their business with $78 in their pockets, selling t-shirts in the streets of Boston and at college dorms up and down the East Coast. Today, Life is Good is a $100 million positive lifestyle brand sold by more than 2,000 retailers across the US and Canada.


Early on, Bert and John were inspired by stories of people, mainly children, facing great adversity. These stories illustrated that optimism is most powerful in the darkest of times and inspired the creation of a fully integrated business model dedicated to helping kids in need. Life is Good donates at least 10% of its annual net profits to the Life is Good Kids Foundation to positively impact more than 1 million kids every year facing poverty, violence, and illness.


Bert focuses his energy on guiding overall vision and creating the art and message for the brand across categories. To inspire others to choose optimism and grow the good in their lives, Bert and John wrote Life is Good: The Book/ How to Live with Purpose and Enjoy the Ride, published by National Geographic in September 2015.

Bert earned his Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the Villanova University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and has been awarded honorary doctorates from several universities for entrepreneurship, business innovation and philanthropy. He and Life is Good have been featured on CNNMoney, CNBC’s Business Nation, ABC News’ Nightline, NBC’s The Today Show, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, and Men’s Health Magazine, among others. 

Honorary Degree Recipients

Cora Billings

Sister Cora Marie Billings, RSM
Doctor of Humane Letters

Sister Cora Marie Billings ’67 CLAS, a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, is a passionate advocate for social justice, service and equality. During her more than 60 years of religious service, Sister Cora Marie has served as a Church administrator and an educator at the elementary, high school and college level. In her ministry, she has worked tirelessly to facilitate conversations across racial and religious lines and break down perceived boundaries.

As an African-American Catholic and as a woman religious, she has often experienced being either “the first” or “the only” in many situations. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Sister Cora Marie became the first African-American woman to enter a religious community in Philadelphia when she joined the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia in 1956. She was also the first African-American sister to work as a campus minister at Virginia State University, before becoming the first African-American sister in the country to serve as a pastoral coordinator, leading the St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Richmond, Virginia for 14 years.

Sister Cora Marie went on to serve as the director of the Office for Black Catholics in the Diocese of Richmond for 25 years and later worked as the deputy director of Human Rights Council for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Since leaving her job with the state in 2010, Sister Cora Marie has continued holding workshops and leading discussions on racism for congregations and students throughout the region and across the country.

Sister Cora Marie traces her roots in the Church to her great-grandfather, who was a slave for the Jesuits at Georgetown University. She has often been asked how she chose to maintain a relationship with a church that enslaved her ancestors. Sister Cora Marie believes that you cannot change organizations from the outside, especially an organization like the Roman Catholic Church, which is one of the reasons she joined religious life. She believes that pushing the Church forward on civil issues is God’s work, and that God’s work, no matter how difficult, needs to be done.

Sister Cora Marie earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Villanova University in 1967 and has been awarded honorary degrees from Gwynedd Mercy University and St. Joseph’s University.