During the 138th commencement exercises on May 25, Cushing presented Nate Berkus ’90 with the Cushing Academy Distinguished Alumni Award. Nate is the fourth recipient of this award, joining international photojournalist Jane Evelyn Atwood ’66, entrepreneur and classmate Aaron Earls ’90, and legendary actress Bette Davis ’26, who was recognized at the 100th anniversary of her birth. Established in 2008, the award honors alumni for their exemplary personal accomplishments, professional achievements or contributions to society. Nate has achieved distinction in each of these realms.
Nate’s Cushing story began in 1989, when he enrolled as a senior from his home in Minnesota. In true Penguin spirit, he seized every opportunity, excelling in the classroom, taking part in productions of Hamlet and Chicago, chairing the Model UN club, and working on the school newspaper. After Cushing, Nate received his Bachelor’s degree from Lake Forest College. He then followed his passions into the field of design, and at age 24, he opened Nate Berkus Associates in Chicago, which continues to design interiors across the country and around the world. In 2002, Nate was invited to make over a small space for "The Oprah Winfrey Show," after which he became a featured design expert for the show and continued to garner national recognition. While those pursuits alone would have kept most of us busy, Nate released a national line of home products, and, in 2005 published his first book, Home Rules, which became a New York Times Bestseller.
An entrepreneur who has continued to embrace new challenges, Nate hosted "The Nate Berkus Show," an Emmy-nominated daily syndicated talk show, for two seasons, and he enjoyed a new role as executive producer on the 2011 Disney and DreamWorks film, The Help. This year has seen the launch of major new collections of home goods, accessories and fabrics, and next year, he will host a new NBC series, tentatively called "American Dream Builders."
Another milestone has been the publication of his second book, The Things That Matter - also a New York Times Bestseller - in which he pays tribute to Madame Cheryl Storm, his beloved French teacher. Reminiscing about his favorite Cushing memories, he writes, “I began my fascination with France, thanks to my glamorous French teacher Cheryl Storm, who had cool earrings, wore her bangs at a very chic angle, and rocked a designer scarf over her shoulder. Here we were, sitting in a classroom at the base of a mountain in Massachusetts, believing that we were in the heart of Paris.”Nate’s recognition of Cheryl speaks to the tremendous power of teachers to inspire, and Cheryl and her colleagues have rightly earned the respect and admiration of countless Cushing students.
Nate has written honestly and beautifully about challenges he has faced, including the aftermath of the 2004 Southeast Asia Tsunami in which he experienced great personal loss. The kindness and compassion that were undoubtedly tested and strengthened in that tragedy have been a continued source of inspiration to his millions of admirers worldwide.
Nate is generously involved in a number of charitable causes including no kill animal shelters such as The Animal Anti-Cruelty League and PAWS Chicago. He has hosted the Delete Blood Cancer event for the last 2 years, and is a member of the American Red Cross National Celebrity Cabinet. The ARC was one of the first organizations on the ground after the tsunami, and Nate continues to support all their efforts whenever possible, both locally and abroad.
We were honored to have Nate back on campus to receive this award and to serve as this year’s commencement speaker. Please click here
for the text and video of his speech.