Auburn Alums Kirsty Coventry and Phillip McWane to address spring graduates

AUBURN, Ala. – As Auburn University prepares to celebrate its spring 2024 graduates, the institution has announced that two of its most distinguished alumni—seven-time Olympic Medalist, former Auburn swimmer, and Zimbabwe Sports Minister Kirsty Coventry, and business icon and renowned philanthropist Phillip McWane—will address more than 5,000 graduates and their families during the university’s spring commencement ceremonies, scheduled for May 3-6 in Neville Arena.

Coventry, a former Auburn swimmer, politician, and the most decorated Olympian from Africa, currently serves as the Minister of Sport, Arts and Recreation in her native Zimbabwe. Coventry will share speaking duties with prominent business and industry leader McWane, chairman of McWane, Inc., an Alabama-based manufacturer focused on creating high-quality products that deliver clean drinking water around the world.

“In addition to being remarkable leaders whose work has made a profound difference in the world, Kirsty Coventry and Phillip McWane are living embodiments of the Auburn Creed and personify the ideals we strive to instill in all of our graduates,” said President Christopher B. Roberts. "I’m grateful our students will have the opportunity to hear from such exceptional leaders who have such a special connection to our campus.”

Kirsty Coventry, ’06

Originally from Harare, Zimbabwe, Coventry is an internationally acclaimed swimmer who gained global recognition during the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics, winning a total of seven medals. Recruited to Auburn’s nationally ranked swimming team by renowned coach David Marsh, Coventry became a pivotal member of the institution’s historic National Championship teams in 2002, 2003 and 2004, marking the university’s first national title in a women’s sport.

Kirsty Coventry Kirsty Coventry, College of Human Sciences alumna

Following gold, silver and bronze medals in the 2004 Olympic games, Coventry emerged as the highest individual scorer at the NCAA Championships in 2005, clinching three separate titles in the 200-yard and 400-yard individual medley, and the 200-yard backstroke. Her NCAA achievements include seven national titles and 25 All-American honors. In addition to being honored as the SEC Swimmer of the Year and Female Athlete of the Year for 2004-05, Coventry was named the most outstanding female swimmer of the year by Swimming Magazine and remains the most decorated Auburn Olympian.

After graduating from Auburn in hotel and restaurant management in 2006, the College of Human Sciences alumna continued to represent Zimbabwe as an elite swimmer, competing in the 2007 World Championships and breaking several world records before competing at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, where she added a gold and three silver medals. In addition to the World Championships, Coventry competed in the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro before retiring that same year, having won the joint-most individual medals in women's swimming in Olympic history and setting five world records. Coventry was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2023.

“Auburn taught me the power of teamwork and becoming Auburn's greatest Olympian was possible because of the strength of the team I surrounded myself with, and to this day I still attribute my successes to the people around me,” said Coventry.

As a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Coventry is an Executive Board member, Chair of the Dakar 2026 Youth Olympic Games, Chair of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games and Chair of the Games Optimization Group (the future of the Olympic Games). Coventry also sits on the IOC Olympic Solidarity and Finance Commissions. She is the Vice President of the International Surfing Federation, and a member of the World Aquatics Athletes’ Commission. As Zimbabwe's current Minister of Sport, Arts and Recreation, Coventry works to establish policies and advance programs that enable the developing country's more that 17 million citizens to thrive in sports, arts, and recreational pursuits.

Phillip McWane, ’80

McWane, a graduate in industrial management from the Harbert College of Business, has dedicated more than three decades to steering McWane, Inc. As a global leader in crafting ductile iron products, McWane, Inc. plays a critical role in delivering safe and clean water worldwide. Under his leadership, the multi-billion-dollar enterprise has become synonymous with safety, sustainability and ethically responsible practices. The company’s products, renowned for their superior quality and reliable performance, have significantly enhanced community infrastructure across the world.

Phillip McWane Philip McWane, Harbert College of Business alumnus

As chairman, McWane oversees more than 6,000 employees in 25 manufacturing locations worldwide, including the US, Canada, China, India and Australia. As the fourth-generation leader of McWane, Inc., the Birmingham, Alabama native manages the company’s extensive product portfolio, which includes ductile pipes, soil pipes, valves, fittings, fire hydrants, fire extinguishers, pressure vessels and poles.

In addition to fostering an organizational philosophy founded on core values of safety and environmental performance, McWane, Inc. is known for its company culture that prioritizes communication, relationships, and work performance—a culture known as “The McWane Way”. The organization’s emphasis on environmental stewardship and principled operations has successfully integrated sustainable practices and responsible business conduct, promoting a safe workforce and establishing industry standards in the process.

Beyond his business endeavors, McWane is a noted philanthropist and children’s advocate. He has served on the boards of Children’s Hospital of Alabama, the Sloss Furnaces Foundation, the McWane Science Center, the PreSchool Partners Advisory Board, and the Birmingham Business Alliance Executive Committee. He actively participates in the Birmingham Rotary Club and is a member of Leadership Alabama.

"I received such a well-rounded education at Auburn University that I've often been complimented as being an engineer and sometimes accused of being a lawyer,” said McWane. “I'm neither. I'm well rounded."

Coventry will deliver the commencement address on Friday, May 3, to the Graduate School (5 p.m.) and on Saturday, May 4 during the combined ceremonies for the Colleges of Agriculture, Architecture, Design and Construction, Human Sciences and Nursing (8 a.m.) and the Colleges of Education, Forestry, Wildlife and Environment and Sciences and Mathematics (1 p.m.).

McWane will deliver the commencement address during the May 4 ceremony for the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering (6 p.m.) and on Sunday, May 5 for the College of Liberal Arts (1 p.m.) and the Harbert College of Business (6 p.m.).

Additional information is available on the commencement website, including a live stream link for those unable to attend and the commencement Facebook and Instagram accounts.

For questions, email