As part of its annual commencement tradition—at the 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. ceremonies on Saturday, May 5—Southern Illinois University Edwardsville will bestow an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. This year the honor will go to Fernando Aguirre, chairman, president and CEO of Chiquita Brands International Inc. and a 1980 SIUE graduate with a bachelor of science in business administration/marketing.
At the 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 4, ceremony, the SIUE Distinguished Service Award will be given to Paige St. John, a 1986 graduate of SIUE in mass communications and the 2011 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. She is a reporter for the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune newspaper
The SIUE Honorary Degrees and Distinguished Service Awards Committee actively solicit nominations from members of the University community to obtain a diverse pool of qualified candidates for these awards.
A candidate for an Honorary Degree may be any person who has made significant contributions to cultural, educational, scientific, economic, social, and humanitarian or other worthy fields of endeavor. Distinguished Service Awards may be presented to any persons who have given outstanding or unusual service to the University, the region, or the State.
Since graduating from SIUE in 1980, Aguirre has built an outstanding legacy of business and philanthropic leadership. He arrived in the United States as an exchange student from Mexico and earned a baseball scholarship to SIUE. Upon graduation, Aguirre joined Procter & Gamble (P&G). During the next 23 years, he rose within the company, heading divisions in Brazil and Mexico, leading P&G’s global feminine care unit, and serving as president of Special Projects.
In 2004, he became chairman, president and CEO of Chiquita Brands, recognized worldwide for its production and distribution of bananas and other fresh produce.
Aguirre has been an active leader in the business community throughout his career, serving on several corporate boards, including Chiquita, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Aetna, Univision Communications, and Levi Strauss & Co. He is a member and former chapter president of the Young Presidents’ Organization and a 10-year participant in the YPO Harvard Presidents’ Seminar.
His generous support of SIUE through the years has helped generations, and still is helping new generations of students achieve their goals. He provided significant support to the renovation of SIUE’s baseball facility and currently serves as honorary co-chair for Defining Excellence: The Campaign for SIUE. In 2005, he participated in the SIUE School of Business Executive Lecture Series, as part of the School’s International Business Week. Aguirre was inducted into the SIUE Alumni Hall of Fame (2009) and Athletics Hall of Fame (2007) for his exceptional efforts both on and off the field.
In addition to his involvement with SIUE, Aguirre serves on the board of directors for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and on the advisory board for Duke University’s Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics. In addition, he is a mentor for the International Mentoring Network Organization.
SIUE alumna Paige St. John is an award-winning journalist whose three-year examination of Florida’s property insurance crisis, “Florida’s Insurance Nightmare,” secured her the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. The award represents the first Pulitzer for an SIUE graduate and the first for the Sarasota paper. Her research uncovered how mismanagement of homeowner premiums devastated the Florida property insurance industry.
The Pulitzer committee commended St. John for “her examination of weaknesses in the murky property-insurance system vital to Florida homeowners, providing handy data to assess insurer reliability and stirring regulatory action.”
St. John has worked as an investigative reporter for the Herald-Tribune since 2008; previously, she served as Florida statehouse bureau chief for Gannett News Service. She spent her early career as a correspondent for the Associated Press and The Detroit News in Michigan. She was inducted into the SIUE Alumni Hall of Fame in October 2011.