Academic Ceremonies - Commencement
Honorary Degree Recipient
William Pickens III
Doctor of Laws
William Pickens III is the founder and president of Bill Pickens Associates, Inc., an international consulting and executive search firm he founded in 1979. He is also the founding president and chief executive officer of the Paul Robeson Foundation, established in 1996 and dedicated to preserving the legacy of the legendary actor, singer, and social activist.
A 1958 graduate of the University of Vermont, Pickens spent the next three years as a First Lieutenant in the Air Force in Japan where he became fluent in Japanese — a skill that served him well later in life as a founding trustee and secretary of the United States-Japan Foundation. He earned his master’s degree from New York University in 1967 and went on to build a successful career in business while simultaneously dedicating his talents to public service.
He began his business career in the Bell System, where he rose to the position of department chief before moving on to become an associate with the worldwide consulting firm Booz, Allen & Hamilton. As vice president at Marine Midland Bank, he had an opportunity to further broaden his international world view through travel to Japan, South Africa, Morocco, and England. He next became director of personnel for Phillip Morris before founding his own firm in 1979.
Pickens has devoted much of his life in service to the public good. He has for many years been a member of the Board of Directors of Boys and Girls Harbor, an organization committed to empowering children and their families in and around New York City to become full, productive participants in society through education, cultural enrichment, and social services. He has also served as a president’s associate for Duke University, trustee of the Studio Museum of Harlem, fundraiser for the Bay Street Theater, co-founder of the Council of Concerned Black Executives, trustee emeritus of the National Center for Black Philanthropy, Inc., and a member of the UVM Alumni Association’s New York Regional Board. As vice president for the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, Pickens led peacekeeping missions to South Africa in 1992 and to Northern Ireland in 1999.
Pickens’s grandfather, William Pickens Sr., the son of former slaves, graduated from Yale University in 1904 and was a co-founder of the NAACP in 1909. William Pickens III is a lifetime member of the NAACP and a former director of its Executive Committee.