Wagner College announced in December that its 2016 commencement speaker will be Brandon Stanton, creator of Humans of New York, an ongoing project to publish, online and in a book series, the stories and photos of everyday New Yorkers.
In addition, the College will honor Nadia Lopez ’98, founder and principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Both Stanton and Lopez will be awarded honorary doctor of humane letters degrees at the May 20 ceremony.
In the summer of 2010, Stanton began his ambitious project to create a “photographic census” of New York City. The photos he took, and the accompanying interviews, became the Humans of New York blog. In its first three years, HONY’s audience grew from a few hundred to over one million. The HONY Facebook page had more than 17 million followers, and the three Humans of New York books have been New York Times bestsellers.
In Wagner Magazine’s summer 2015 “Uncommon Lives” feature, we introduced readers to the story of Nadia Lopez, her school in Brownsville, and its intersection with Humans of New York: In January 2015, Stanton encountered 13-year-old Vidal Chastanet, who told him that his greatest influence was Ms. Lopez, his principal.
Stanton met Lopez and featured her and Mott Hall Bridges Academy’s dedicated teachers, who serve one of the poorest neighborhoods of New York City. He launched an online fundraising campaign to send the students on a trip to Harvard University; it raised $1.4 million from more than 51,000 donors.
Heather Wolf ’15, the 2015 Spiro Scholar, spoke at last year’s commencement about creating an Instagram account, Humans of Wagner, inspired by Humans of New York. That work became an integral part of her Wagner experience. “Wagner is such a diverse community with so many interesting stories,” she says. “So, they identify with the stories of Humans of New York.
“I learned from reading Humans of New York and making Humans of Wagner that people are more than what they appear to be on the surface,” she adds. “Everyone has stories to tell.”