Topics: Administrative, Speakers, President

December 3, 2015

Fall Commencement image
Ball State alumnus John Seffrin, the recently retired chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, will be the main speaker Dec. 19 at Fall Commencement.

John Seffrin, the recently retired chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, will be the main speaker Dec. 19 during Ball State University’s Fall Commencement.

Seffrin, a 1966 Ball State alumnus, also will be awarded the President’s Medal of Distinction during ceremonies that begin at 10 a.m. in Worthen Arena. The event is free and open to the public, and no special tickets are required. For more information, visit

“Commencement is among Ball State’s greatest traditions, so we take great pride in the variety of accomplished alumni and exciting personalities who deliver the commencement address to our new alumni each semester,” said Ball State President Paul W. Ferguson. “Dr. Seffrin has been a true and tireless champion in the fight against cancer during his professional career. We look forward to hearing about his first-hand experience in leading this fight against a disease that touches the lives of nearly every one of us and to acknowledge his successful efforts with the President’s Medal of Distinction.”

Touched by cancer early in life

Seffrin served as the organization’s top executive from 1992 to 2015, after 20 years as a volunteer, but his first encounter with the disease dates to his childhood. His grandmother, who was living with his family at the time, died of cancer when he was only 10 years old. He has since lost his mother to cancer, and his wife of nearly 50 years, Carole, also a 1966 graduate of Ball State, is a breast cancer survivor.

Under his leadership, the American Cancer Society became the global cancer leader it is today, with $1 billion in resources to save lives by helping people stay well and get well, by finding cures and by fighting back through legislation and rallies. As CEO, Seffrin made the organization’s voice heard in legislatures across the country and in forums worldwide, and he did not shy away from a fight, especially if the foe was the tobacco industry.

In the political realm, Seffrin transformed the world’s largest voluntary cancer-fighting group into one of the world’s most progressive public health organizations and a leading advocacy organization. He spearheaded the creation of the society’s nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, of which he also served as chief executive officer.

Active with many organizations

Seffrin is active in numerous organizations, serving on the White House Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health, as well as the Advisory Committee to the Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a secretary-level appointment. Seffrin is a past president of the Geneva-headquartered Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the first globally oriented cancer nongovernmental organization (NGO), and has served as chairman of the board of Independent Sector, the largest coalition of nonprofit groups. He also helped to create the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids (now the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids), among his many collaborations and affiliations.

In 1999, Seffrin was selected to be a charter member of C-Change (formerly known as the National Dialogue on Cancer) Steering Committee, which was co-chaired by former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush. In 1997, he was appointed to the National Cancer Policy Board of the Institute of Medicine, and in 1999, was appointed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein to co-chair the National Cancer Legislation Advisory Committee.

Seffrin is a contributing author to more than one dozen books and has written more than 100 articles and other publications. He has presented more than 100 invited lectures worldwide and been honored numerous times, including being named the 2010 recipient Elizabeth Fries Health Education Award, presented by the James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation.

Seffrin holds a bachelor’s degree from Ball State, a master’s degree in health education from the University of Illinois and a doctorate in health education from Purdue University.

Before being named the American Cancer Society’s top staff executive, Seffrin served at IU as a professor of health education and chairman of the Department of Applied Health Science. Following his retirement, he joined the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington faculty as a professor of practice. He has been member of the Ball State University Foundation Board of Directors since 2004.