In 2003, Jonathan T.M. Reckford had been a successful business executive at some of the nation’s major corporations when he felt a calling to serve others in a deeper way. He left the corporate world behind to become a pastor and now leads the world’s foremost global nonprofit housing organization.
The Carolina alumnus, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of Arts & Sciences in 1984, will return to deliver the Commencement address at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Spring Commencement on May 12 in Kenan Stadium.
“Since leaving Carolina and his hometown of Chapel Hill, Jonathan’s career in business and service to people around the world as CEO of Habitat for Humanity International has changed millions of lives,” said Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. “Jonathan’s message of global service to others will motivate our graduates as they begin the next chapter of their lives. I know he will inspire the Class of 2019.”
Reckford has deep ties to Carolina. His father, Kenneth Reckford, was a longtime faculty member in the classics department. In 1990, Kenneth Reckford established the Mary Stevens Reckford Memorial Lecture in European Studies to honor his wife, Reckford’s mother. One of Reckford’s children is a Carolina graduate, and another will attend UNC-Chapel Hill this fall.
Reckford was a Morehead-Cain Scholar at Carolina, and upon graduation he earned a Luce Scholarship that took him to South Korea. There, Reckford worked in marketing for the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee and coached the Korean rowing team for the 1988 Olympics.
Later, Reckford worked in executive and management positions at Goldman Sachs, Marriott, The Walt Disney Co. and Best Buy. He spent two years as an executive pastor of a 4,300-member church in Edina, Minnesota, and then became the CEO of Habitat for Humanity in 2005.
“I learned a passion for public service at Carolina, and I am honored to share my story and the lessons I’ve learned,” Reckford said. “I remember sitting in Kenan Stadium at my own graduation, thinking about what the future held for my classmates and me. I hope to encourage the Class of 2019 to pursue their purpose and find a place where their gifts and skills line up with something that matters in our world.”
Habitat has helped more than 22 million people improve their living conditions in every state in the nation and in 70 countries since it was founded in 1976. In 2018 alone, Habitat helped 8.7 million people secure new or improved housing. The group’s vision is to one day create a world where everyone has a place to live.
The UNC-Chapel Hill Habitat for Humanity chapter has built more than 40 homes in association with Orange County Habitat since 1994. In 2011, the chapter received Habitat’s Campus Chapter of the Year Award because of its ambitious Build a Block project in which students, faculty and staff came together to help University and UNC Health Care families build 10 Habitat houses.
“Jonathan is a wonderful choice, and I thank the search committee for their diligence in making such an outstanding selection,” said Executive Vice Provost Ron Strauss, who chairs the Commencement Committee. “His commitment to the Carolina community and to public good is evident in everything he does. We are excited to have him address our graduates.”
Reckford was awarded the University’s distinguished alumnus award in 2012. He was also the featured speaker at the University’s 2012 Eve Marie Carson Lecture. He serves on the boards of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and the Duke Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Urban Steering Committee for the World Economic Forum.
By University Communications