Deborah A. Elam, GE chief diversity officer and GE Foundation president, was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree at Clarkson University’s 123rd Commencement on Saturday, May 7.

Deborah A. ElamThe degree was awarded for “her steadfast focus on individual talents and potential; for building teams that can do more than their members could accomplish separately; for elevating diversity and inclusion to a corporate value now shared by organizations worldwide; and for her service to all who believe in and work for a better future.”

“Make your steps bold, challenge the status quo, take big, calculated risks, and most importantly, always, always, always strive for excellence,” said Elam in addressing the graduates. “My parents instilled in me from a very early age to work hard to be the absolute best at whatever I did — no matter what it was. And I pass that advice on to you. Whether it’s being the president of a foundation — like me — an engineer, a scientist, a manager or an innovator — whatever it is you chose to do with your life, vow to be the absolute best at it.”

Elam also quoted Harriet Tubman, saying, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. You see, that’s the real secret to success — passion, drive and a commitment to continue to dream. You have everything within you to do exactly what you set out to do.”

Elam is chief diversity officer for GE and president of the GE Foundation, which focuses on health, education, skills and disaster relief. She leads global efforts to bring GE employees closer to their communities while maintaining diversity and inclusiveness as an essential part of GE’s productivity, creativity, innovation and competitive advantage.

Elam began working as an intern with GE nearly 30 years ago. After graduation, she joined GE’s Human Resources Leadership Program and had assignments at GE Global Exchange Services and GE Aviation. She was appointed an officer of the company in 2006. One of the most senior leaders in the Company, Elam’s role expanded to lead the GE Foundation in 2013.

Elam holds leadership roles in GE’s African American Forum and the GE Women’s Network. She is a member of the Executive Leadership Council (an organization of top-ranking African Americans in U.S. corporations) and the National Black MBA Association.

Outside her professional roles with GE, Elam is on the board of advisors of Working Mother Media Multicultural Women’s Initiative.

Elam received numerous awards and has been featured in several national magazines including on the cover of The Network Journal Magazine where she was named one of Twenty-five Most Influential Black Women in Business. She is a recipient of the prestigious EPIC (Enhancing Perceptions in Culture) Award given by The White House Project, the Keeper of the Dream Award presented by Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network and a recipient of the Women of Power Award given by the National Urban League.

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, New York, and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

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