Barrier breaker Sarah Mensah to deliver commencement address

Sarah Mensah, the first Black woman and first UO graduate to lead Nike, Inc.’s Jordan Brand, will give the keynote address at the University of Oregon’s 148th commencement. The 1987 UO graduate is President of the globally influential sneaker and apparel brand.

“It will be an honor to celebrate this joyful day with the class of 2024,” said Mensah, who graduated from the UO with a degree in journalism and telecommunication and film.

“Looking back on my time as a student, I recall an incredible sense of possibilities and new ideas,” she said. “As Ducks, we fancied ourselves as responsible for pushing the envelope. And it’s still true today. How can we think in new ways and cross disciplines? I think that’s part of the university’s — and Jordan’s — DNA.”

UO President Karl Scholz said Mensah’s rise from a curious and motivated student to a corporate and community leader puts her in an ideal place to inspire a new generation of Ducks.

Sarah Mensah
Sarah Mensah

“I am delighted to welcome Sarah to campus as our 2024 commencement speaker,” said UO President Karl Scholz. “Throughout her distinguished career, she has consistently demonstrated courage, curiosity and innovation, all while leading with admirable values.

“As a successful executive and head of one of the world’s most iconic brands, I have no doubt she will offer wonderful wisdom and insights to our graduates and their families and guests.”

Mensah was a sprinter with the track and field team at Aloha High School, which is four miles from what is now Nike, Inc. World Headquarters. Her interest in broadcast journalism led her to the University of Oregon. 

After graduating, Mensah started an internship with KGW-TV in Portland where she tried on many different hats. Her curiosity about the business side of the NBC affiliate led her to a sales executive position. 

In the mid-1990s, Mensah took a corporate sales manager position with the Portland Trail Blazers. Over 19 years, she worked her way through the ranks. As an executive for the NBA franchise, Mensah increased revenue, grew ticket sales, and led the team’s successful “Rise With Us” brand campaign. She joined Nike in 2013. 

Mensah became President of Jordan Brand last June, her latest accomplishment in a series of professional milestones.

“Black Americans in particular have taken initial ownership of Jordan Brand as a beacon of hope,” she said in her recent interview with Oregon Quarterly.

She also was the first woman to serve as the Trail Blazers’ chief operating officer, at that time the highest-ranking female staffer in the National Basketball Association. At Nike, she was the first Black woman to hold the role of geography general manager and the first to serve as vice president at Nike North America.

While leading the North America geography, Mensah was responsible for driving the brand and business in Nike’s largest region. And as vice president and general manager for Nike’s Asia, Pacific and Latin American region, she oversaw day-to-day operations across 15 countries. 

Mensah is a co-founder of North Pole Studio, a Portland nonprofit supporting artists with autism and intellectual development disabilities. Dedicated to equal opportunities for all people, she is an advocate for underrepresented communities and individuals. 

She’s been recognized as a Women in Sports Business Game Changer by the Sports Business Journal, one of the 50 Most Influential Portlanders by Portland Monthly, and a Top Executive in Marketing and Advertising by Black Enterprise. 

Most recently, Adweek included her among the 50 Most Powerful Women in Sports, and the Oregon Historical Society named her an Oregon History Maker. Mensah also serves on the Albertsons Companies board of directors. 

The commencement ceremony begins at 9 a.m. Monday, June 17, in Autzen Stadium. Graduates who want to participate in the celebration must RSVP and include an estimated number of guests.

This year’s main celebration will be livestreamed. To learn more about commencement, find the link to watch the livestream, or view information about the school and college ceremonies, visit the commencement website.

By Ed Dorsch, University Communications