2022 Honorary Degree Recipients
At commencement, we are humbled to honor movers and shakers who have made a difference and personify the mission and values of Beacon College through the recognition of an Honorary Doctorate degree.
Jhillika Kumar is a social impact entrepreneur, diversity and inclusion community builder, and advocate for disability empowerment. Just 23 years old, she is the founder and CEO of Mentra, the first platform matching neurodiverse individuals with employers, enabling them to find meaningful careers with organizations that value their unique abilities.
Kumar’s passion for neurodiversity advocacy stems from her devotion to her older brother, Vikram. Previously silent due to autism, Vikram communicated his first words at 27, thanks to technology. His intelligence and eloquence inspired Kumar to search for a solution to the need to empower those who society has overlooked.
In 2020, Kumar earned a bachelor’s degree in computational media from the Georgia Institute of Technology. There she served as Computational Media Ambassador, heading recruiting events and speaking to prospective students. She also worked as a researcher under Dr. Gregory Abowd. Kumar interned in UX design at Anthem, Inc. and The Walt Disney Company, but it was in her research work in autism and computing where she found her calling. In 2018, Kumar served as a speaker and inclusive design advocate with TEDxGeorgia Tech, where her TED Talk focused on the joy her family experienced as an iPad enabled her brother to unlock his abilities and transform his life.
Kumar’s work was recognized with the AnitaB.org Student of Vision Abie Award, which celebrates a female student who has a unique vision of how innovation can solve important problems. As the keynote speaker for the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration, she spoke to an international audience of women in technology, inspiring them to leverage the power of empathy and their own talents to enable those living with some form of disability.
After graduation, Kumar joined Bank of America as Assistant Vice President – Accessibility Specialist, where she earned a Global Diversity & Inclusion award. Today she serves full-time as CEO of Mentra, which was recently recognized by the Biden administration as the most innovative solution to solve the #DisabilityDivide. In addition, Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility team named Mentra the 2022 project focused on advancing employment for disabilities.
As a person of Indian origin, Jhillika was born in Los Angeles and spent most of her childhood in Dubai, UAE. She attended the Dubai American Academy, graduating from its International Baccalaureate program in 2016. She makes her home in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman
Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is one of the foremost advocates of the neurodiverse community. He is also an entrepreneur, author, filmmaker, retired orthopedic surgeon and former professional heavyweight boxer. Despite his unusually diverse background, it was his role as father that inspired his dedication to speaking out for the differences in our brains.
Reitman earned a bachelor’s degree and an M.D. from Boston University School of Medicine’s accelerated six-year program and was a Student Orthopedic Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital. While there, Reitman completed an NIH Fellowship in cancer research and served as president of the Boston Student Neurological Society. He was chief resident at Boston City Hospital and interned at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, NJ. Later, he relocated to South Florida and founded Orthopaedic Associates USA, where he specialized in arthroscopic knee surgery and sports medicine until his retirement in 2004. From 1975, 2011, Reitman served as Clinical Assistant Professor of Anatomy at his alma mater, delivering an annual lecture to first year medical students.
Growing up, Reitman’s daughter Rebecca overcame challenge after challenge: 23 vascular brain tumors, brain surgeries, epilepsy, an Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis. His first year in medical school, Reitman had surprised his instructors and fellow students by entering and winning the Lowell New England Golden Gloves heavyweight championship; at the age of 38 he returned to the ring in support of kids like Rebecca, donating the purses from 26 matches to children’s charities. He and Rebecca worked together to write Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity, and to write, produce and direct a feature film based on her experiences as a neurodiverse student at Georgia Tech.
In 2016, Reitman founded the nonprofit Different Brains, where he leads and mentors neurodivergent interns over the age of 18, providing opportunities to develop social and job skills as well as tools to maximize their potential and independence. The nonprofit also produces neurodiversity advocacy media content for the public to access free of charge, and has created one of the largest such libraries in the world at their website, DifferentBrains.org.
His awards and accolades are numerous, including the 2019 “Media Influencer of the Year” award from the Unicorn Children’s Foundation Community Inclusion Awards, the 2016 AASCEND Award for Development and induction to the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
Reitman serves as a corporate board member of The Boys and Girls Club of Broward County and resides in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Past Honorary Degree Recipients
The following people have been awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Beacon College.
2019: James T. Brett, national disability advocate and former Massachusetts legislator, and Dr. Charles Vert Willie, professor of education, emeritus, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education
2018: Sheikha Jameela Al-Qasimi, director general of Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (United Arab Emirates), and Sen. Andrew and Camille Gardiner, former Florida State Senate President and disability advocates
2017: Sen. Tom Harkin, former U.S. Senator and architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act
2016: Rep. Daniel A. Webster, U.S. Representative
2013: John M. Hutchinson, Ph.D., former interim president of Beacon College
2012: Dr. Alexa Posny, former assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services and former director of the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Special Education Programs
2011: Bambi Lockman, former chief of the Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services in the Florida Department of Education