Nike VP to address RIT’s Class of 2021


Rochester Institute of Technology named industrial design alumnus Eric Avar, vice president and creative guide of innovation design at Nike, as a commencement speaker on May 14-15.

Avar, who received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2016 from the then College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, joins Andrea Ghez — a 2020 Nobel Prize winner in physics for her work with black holes — as the university’s first dual commencement speakers during a two-day celebration of the Class of 2021.

Eric Avar.

President David Munson and Provost Ellen Granberg decided to appoint two speakers as an acknowledgement of the unusual and difficult year the Class of 2021 experienced. 

“The Class of 2021 experienced pandemic disruption during the last three semesters of their RIT education,” Granberg said. “Appointing two speakers is a symbol of this special class for whom so many senior traditions could not take place.”

Avar started at Nike in 1991 and helped design many award-winning products, including many within the Nike Basketball, Nike Free and Lunar series of footwear. He became the chief creator of the late Kobe Bryant’s signature sneakers when the Laker star signed with Nike in 2003.

Approximately 3,000 RIT undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students in the Class of 2021 are expected to graduate this year. Smaller, in-person ceremonies by college are planned to allow candidates for degrees to walk across the stage. Most speakers, including Ghez and Avar, will be virtual and each ceremony will be live-streamed.

RIT’s 2020 graduates, who were unable to have an in-person graduation last year, are invited to walk across their own stage on May 16. The commencement speaker is Josephine “Jody” Olsen, director of the Peace Corps from March 2018 to January 2021.

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