Essie Weingarten and LL Cool J to Be Honored at Commencement

Essie Weingarten and LL Cool J have more than one thing in common. Both are entrepreneurs who have built empires—hers in nail polish and his in music and film—and both will be honored at FIT’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 25, 2017.

Weingarten, the founder of Essie Cosmetics, will speak at the ceremony and receive a State University of New York honorary degree. LL Cool J, the pioneering hip-hop artist―otherwise known as James Todd Smith―will receive the President’s Award for Creative Excellence.

The single ceremony (as opposed to the two ceremonies of years past) will start at 10:30 a.m. at Arthur Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows―Corona Park, Queens.

An FIT alumna with a passion for nail polish, Weingarten created her own line―and in the process, transformed the beauty industry. As the force behind Essie Cosmetics, she used her creativity, marketing brilliance, and entrepreneurial savvy to bring her polishes into 25,000 salons worldwide. Distinctive colors with witty names and clever packaging have turned her line into one of the best known in the business and have lured shoppers to spend $150 million a year on her products. In 2010, she sold her company to L’Oréal.

An innovative rapper, actor, and author, Smith dropped out of school at age 16 to sign with the fledgling rap label Def Jam. With his long string of hit albums, many of which went gold or platinum, he helped to propel hip hop―and Def Jam―into the mainstream. Along the way, he established himself as a popular film and TV actor, and for five years he hosted the Grammy Awards. Smith has written four books, including one for children. A two-time Grammy Award winner and a two-time MTV Video Music Award winner, Smith also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Among his other numerous honors are an NAACP Image Award and an honorary degree from Northeastern University.