Press Release

Gov. Thompson to speak at May 25 NIU Law Commencement

Illinois’ longest-serving governor will also receive honorary degree

May 22, 2013

Governor James R. ThompsonDeKalb, Ill. -- The Northern Illinois University College of Law will present former Illinois Governor James R. Thompson with an Honorary Doctorate of Law during its May 25 commencement ceremony, where he will also be featured as the commencement speaker. The criteria to receive an honorary law degree include having a distinguished record of achievement in law or a law-related field and embodying the core values of the College of Law, including public service, leadership, professionalism, access to justice and education and diversity. During the ceremony, NIU Law will confer 116 Juris Doctorate degrees.  

In his professional career, Governor Thompson has received a plethora of well-deserved awards and achievements. He was ranked No. 83 in Chicago Magazine's 2012 list of the "100 Most Powerful Chicagoans." He was listed in 1997, 2000, and 2013 by the National Law Journal as one of the nation's 100 most influential lawyers. He was selected as the 2012 Chicago Business Legacy Award Honoree by the Jobs for Youth Legal Industry Council. He holds the Alumni Medal of Northwestern University, the Justice John Paul Stevens Award from the Chicago Bar Foundation (2003), and the Laureate Award from the Illinois State Bar Association Academy of Illinois Lawyers (2000).

“His lifelong commitment to public service serves as a model for our community, especially our students,” said NIU College of Law Dean Jennifer Rosato. “He very much embodies our core values, and we are looking forward to his commencement address.”

Not only does Thompson have a distinguished career in law and public service, but also has an affinity to NIU Law. He gave a moving tribute at Professor Francis X. Riley's memorial service some years ago. Riley, one of NIU Law's most renowned professors and advocates, was a long-time mentor and friend to Governor Thompson.

Governor Thompson served the State of Illinois as governor for 14 years, the longest-serving Chief Executive in Illinois. He was noted for his skill in settling difficult labor-management problems and his ability to manage one of the nation's largest public budgets while maintaining one of the nation's highest state bond ratings. He not only was a successful governor who enjoyed broad public support, but he also was an innovator and a leader among other governors. He served as Chairman of the National Governors’ Association (NGA), the Midwestern Governors' Conference, the Council of Great Lakes Governors, and the Republican Governors' Association. He passionately advocated for Illinois' interests nationally and internationally.

His commitment to public service did not end with his successful terms as governor. He has served on a variety of committees addressing the needs of vulnerable populations, including violent crime, child protection, infant mortality, and teen pregnancy. His significant service at the national level included Chairman of the President's Intelligence Oversight Board under President George H.W. Bush, and he was appointed Commissioner on the 9-11 Commission by former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

Thompson is also a leader in the private practice of law, thus furthering his distinguished record of achievement in law. He currently serves as Senior Chairman at Winston & Strawn, after serving as Chairman of the Executive Committee of Winston & Strawn (1991-2006), and Chairman and CEO of the firm from 1993-2006. During this time he oversaw the growth of the firm, both domestically and internationally.

Governor Thompson is a former Chairman of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and a member of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission. Governor Thompson was Co-Chairman of the Attorney General's Task Force on Violent Crime in 1981; National Co-Chairman of the campaign to Protect Our Children in 1986; a member of the National Commission to Prevent Infant Mortality in 1986; Chairman of the NGA Task Force on Electric Utility Transmission Policy in 1986; Chairman of the NGA Task Force on Teen Pregnancy in 1987; and Chairman of the NGA Task Force on Transportation Infrastructure in 1988.

Governor Thompson received his law degree from Northwestern University School of Law in 1959, and received his undergraduate training at the University of Illinois and Washington University.

The Northern Illinois University College of Law commencement ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 25, at the NIU Convocation Center.

As the only public law school in Northern Illinois, NIU College of Law has been named a top law school nationally for diversity, value, and careers in public interest/government service. NIU Law provides unique opportunities for its students, beginning with its highly accomplished faculty who are personally invested in the success of every student throughout their professional lives. Although many alumni serve as public interest attorneys, prosecutors, defenders, elected officials, and judges, they are equally prepared for careers as solo practitioners or lawyers in multinational firms.


For more information, contact:
Melody Mitchell
Alumni Events & Public Relations
(815) 753-9655 or