March 17, 2015
John Schnatter, the founder and CEO of Papa John's Pizza and a Ball State graduate, will speak at the annual Spring Commencement on May 2.
John Schnatter, the founder and CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, will deliver the address at Ball State University’s annual Spring Commencement on Saturday, May 2, at 10 a.m. The university traditionally confers more than 2,500 degrees on the Arts Terrace. (In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will be at Worthen Arena.)
In addition to being the ceremony’s main speaker, Schnatter will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree. He graduated from Ball State in 1983 with a major in business administration. Returning to his hometown of Jeffersonville, Indiana, he sold his prized 1972 Camaro Z28 to save his father’s business, Mick’s Lounge, in 1984. He knocked down the broom closet, purchased used restaurant equipment and began delivering pizzas out of the back of the bar. A year later, he started his own restaurant, Papa John’s. Today, Papa John’s is the third-largest pizza chain in the United States, with more than 4,600 stores in all 50 states and 34 countries, and more than 21,000 employees.
“Our students, faculty and staff have closely followed John Schnatter’s career,” said President Paul W. Ferguson. “John has demonstrated the abilities we encourage in our students. His story of hard work, perseverance and the willingness to take risks will be compelling and inspirational to each one in our audience. We are proud of his accomplishments and are so pleased to honor him at commencement.”
Under Schnatter’s leadership, Papa John’s has earned numerous national awards. The chain has been named the nation’s best-run small company by Business Week and was ranked 10th on Forbes’ list of the 200 best small companies in the U.S. Business First named the company Business of the Year in 2013, and in the same year, QSR Magazine recognized it among the country’s best franchise opportunities.
Schnatter, who now lives in Anchorage, Kentucky, near Louisville, has received two awards from Ball State’s Miller College of Business. He earned an Award of Achievement in 1993 and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2004.
Spring Commencement on the Fine Arts Terrace is among the university’s greatest traditions. Past Ball State commencements have been graced by the presence of Tony Award-winning actress Sutton Foster; then U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar; Steve Kroft, senior correspondent for CBS’ “60 Minutes”; Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president at Apple; Richard Linnehan, four times an astronaut on NASA space shuttles; Steve Inskeep, co-host of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition”; and Jeffrey D. Feltman, undersecretary general for political affairs at the United Nations, among others. The speaker at last May’s commencement was Luke Messer, congressman for Indiana's Sixth District.