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Alumni Relations & Outreach Program

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Alumni Convocation Speakers
Historical listing* 2013 - present


To Be Announced

2016 Convocation Speaker




Chief Justice Rita Garman

2015 Convocation Speaker


B.S. Economics, University of Illinois

J.D., Iowa College of Law

Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court Rita B. Garman was born in Aurora, Illinois, and grew up in Oswego, where she graduated from Oswego High School as valedictorian of her class. The youngest of three children, she followed her sister to the University of Illinois, where she initially considered following a joint degree program in Economics and Law, until her advisor suggested that admission to the law school component might be difficult for a young woman.

Focusing her attention on her studies in the College of Commerce, she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Economics, with highest honors, in 1965. During her undergraduate years, she earned numerous awards including Bronze Tablet, Beta Gamma Sigma, Mortar Board, Top 10 in Commerce, and Alpha Lambda Delta. While at the University of Illinois, she also met her future husband, Gill M. Garman of Urbana.

Rita and Gill attended the University of Iowa College of Law together and married after their second year of law school. They graduated in 1968. When they were sworn in as members of the Illinois bar, their photograph appeared in the Illinois Bar Journal due to the novelty of having spouses admitted to the bar. The caption read “Mr. and Mrs. Gill M. Garman,” much to the chagrin of her father, who wanted to see the name “Rita Bell Garman” in print.

She began her practice of law in Danville, Illinois, with the Vermilion County Legal Aid Society. Later, she became an Assistant State’s Attorney and, in 1973, began the private practice of law with the firm of Sebat, Swanson, Banks, Lessen & Garman in Danville. In 1974, she was appointed Associate Circuit Judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit. She was the first woman to serve in this capacity. After twelve years in this position, Justice Garman was elected Circuit Judge, and from 1987 to 1995, she was the Presiding Judge for Vermilion County. She was assigned in 1995 and elected in 1996 to the Fourth District Appellate Court, which encompasses thirty counties in central Illinois, extending from the Indiana border to the Iowa border. Again, she was the first woman to hold this position.

Justice Garman was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2001 and elected to a tenyear term in 2002. This election was a milestone for women in the Illinois judiciary because, for the first time, both of the candidates were women. In 2012, she was retained for another ten-year term. In 2013, she was chosen by her colleagues to serve a three-year term as Chief Justice. She was sworn in on October 28, 2013, and is the second woman Chief Justice, the late Mary Ann McMorrow having been the first.

Justice Garman resides in Danville. Her husband, Gill, passed away in 2014. They have two children, Sara Doyle, a University of Illinois graduate and mother of two, and Andrew Gill Garman, a University of Iowa graduate and the father of one.

Highlights from the event (including photos and videos)

Jesse Ruiz

2014 Convocation Speaker


B.A., Economics, University of Illinois

J.D., University of Chicago Law School

Jesse H. Ruiz is a partner in Drinker Biddle & Reath's Corporate and Securities Group, serves as the firm's Marketing Partner, and is a member of the firm’s Client Service Committee. Drawing on his experiences in business and management consulting, and his work in the public sector, Jesse also counsels public and privately¬≠held companies and entrepreneurs on strategic initiatives and transactions.

In 2011, the Walmart Legal Department awarded Jesse its inaugural Walmart Legal Spark Award for “outstanding client and community service and dedication to diversity in the legal profession.

Since 2006, Jesse has served as a member of the board of directors of Commonwealth Edison, an Exelon Company.

Jesse is legal counsel to the fourteen Illinois senators and representatives who formed the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus and the Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus Foundation. In 2003, and again in 2009, he received the Foundation’s Leadership Award for providing legal counsel to both the Foundation and the Caucus, and assisting in the formation of both organizations.

In May 2011, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Jesse the Vice President of the Chicago Board of Education. The Board oversees the operations of the Chicago Public Schools, the third largest school district in the nation.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appointed Jesse to the U.S. Department of Education Equity and Excellence Commission in February 2011.

Prior to accepting the Mayor’s appointment to the Chicago Board of Education, Jesse served as chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education from September 2004 to May 2011. He previously served on the Chicago Public Schools Desegregation Monitoring Commission.

In August 2013, Jesse was appointed by the president of the ABA to the Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities.

He is past president of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois and Past Chairman of the Hispanic Lawyers Scholarship Fund of Illinois. He is also Past Chairman of the Chicago Committee on Minorities in Large Law Firms. He has taught corporate law as an Adjunct Professor of Corporate Law at John Marshall Law School. He also serves on several other civic and charitable boards and committees.

Jesse Ruiz was also named "Illini of the Year for 2013".

Highlights from the event (including photos and video)

The Honorable Richard Winkel

2013 Convocation Speaker


B.A., Economics, Univeristy of Illinois

J.D., DePaul University College of Law

In 1979, Professor Winkel earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (B.A., Economics), where he was a member of Omicron Delta Epsilon, Omicron Delta Kappa, and an Edmund J. James Scholar.

Former senator Richard J. Winkel is the director of IGPA's Office of Public Leadership, which coordinates education and training opportunities for state and local government officials in Illinois. The Office of Public Leadership provides leadership and management training, mentoring and other learning opportunities for elected and appointed government officials, primarily at the municipal, township and county levels. The office also consults with units of government interested in improving their leadership education and in other matters of policy and procedure. It is one of four centers of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Professor Winkel has served as a visiting senior fellow of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) and an adjunct professor in the College of Law at the University of Illinois, where he teaches a course on legislation and legislative process. He also hosted the popular weekly radio program, "Government Insight," a joint partnership with the College of Law, IGPA, and WDWS-AM 1400 and served as an analyst on the extensive WDWS-AM 1400 Election Night coverage team.

Professor Winkel was an Illinois state senator from 2003 to 2007, and an Illinois state representative from 1995 to 2003. From 1992 to 1994, he was a member of the Champaign County Board, where he served as chairman of the policy, procedures, and appointments committee. Professor Winkel practiced law in the Champaign-Urbana area for 23 years in civil litigation and, while serving in the Illinois General Assembly, a general civil practice. He was of counsel at Meyer Capel Law Firm while in the legislature, and before that a partner at Harrington, Porter & Winkel, in Champaign. He earned his law degree at DePaul University, College of Law in 1982.

Winkel is a co-author of a book entitled Illinois Politics, published by University of Illinois Press in January 2010. He was a contributing author for the following reports published by the Institute of Government and Public Affairs: Opportunities for Reforms and Culture Change in Illinois Politics (The Illinois Report 2010, IGPA); Challenges and Opportunities: On the Road to Reform in Illinois (IGPA, March 27, 2009); Multiplicity of Governments; Paucity of Money: A Look at Options for Local Government Consolidation and Streamlining in Illinois (IGPA, October 27, 2008); and Is There a Con-Con in Illinois' Future? (The Illinois Report 2008, IGPA). He was a contributing editor for two publications: "Covenants Not to Compete: A State-By-State Survey," American Bar Association, 1991; "Employee Duty of Loyalty: A State-By-State Survey," American Bar Association, 1995.

In 2015 Winkel was named as Deputy Executive Director for Policy at the Prairie Research Institute. He will conduct this role in tandem to his continued work as the Director of the Office of Public Leadership in the Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Professor Winkel is married to Debra, and they have adult children, Meghan and David.


*In 2013, the Alumni Relations and Outreach Office was created in the Economics Department to facilitate engagement of alumni of the department, incorporate alumni into the programming activities to enhance the academic experience for current students, and act as a conduit for alumni to network with other alumni from the Department of Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As part of that mission, the Department began identifying and inviting distinquished alumni of the department to deliver the convocation address at each spring ceremony. These alumni speaker guests have been widely received by our students and so the tradition continues. If you have an alumnus you would like to suggest, contact