A native Houstonian, Parker graduated from Rice with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, psychology and sociology. She served as Houston’s 61st mayor, elected three times, from 2010 to 2016 after spending six years as a City Council member and six more as city controller. Her career spans the private sector, entrepreneurship, government and not-for-profit leadership.
Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city, was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2010. She also was ranked No. 7 on the City Mayors Foundation’s 2014 list of the world’s top 10 mayors.
“We’re delighted to welcome one of our very own Rice Owls back to campus to deliver this year’s commencement address,” Rice President David Leebron said. “Mayor Parker’s remarkable commitment to public service is an inspiration for our students and we look forward to the insights she will share with our graduates.”
“The greatest honor of my life has been to serve the citizens of Houston in elective office,” Parker said. “But I became an active volunteer in my teens and have served multiple community organizations in many capacities throughout my adult life, and that passion was strengthened and nurtured by my experiences at Rice. Rice’s commitment to preparing students to be leaders both in their fields of study and as engaged citizens in a rapidly changing world keeps inspiring me.”
In addition to her duties as mayor, Parker was a member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, chaired the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Criminal and Social Justice Committee, was a steering committee member of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, served on the board of FirstNet and was a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.
Parker is currently the president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund and Victory Institute. She serves on the Policy and Global Affairs Committee of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the boards of the Houston Botanic Garden, Houston BARC Foundation, Patient Care Intervention Council and Climate Disclosure Project.
Prior to her role with the LGBTQ Victory Fund and Victory Institute, Parker was senior vice president and chief strategy officer of BakerRipley, a community development nonprofit, where she assisted with the Houston area’s response to Hurricane Harvey. She spent 20 years working in the oil and gas industry, including 18 years with Mosbacher Energy Co. She also co-owned Inklings, a lesbian/feminist bookstore, for 10 years. She is a past fellow of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice. She also previously served as a professor in the practice for Rice’s School of Social Sciences.
Parker has received numerous awards during her career, including Scenic Houston’s Scenic Visionary Award, the Guardian of the Human Spirit Award from Holocaust Museum Houston and the Guardian of the Bay Award from the Galveston Bay Foundation. She was a Local Arts Leadership honoree by Americans for the Arts in 2015 and recognized as a Rice University Distinguished Alumna in 2011.