Honorary Degree Recipients of 2013

This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2013

Six influential figures will receive honorary degrees from President Christina Paxson on behalf of the University during this year’s commencement exercises. The Board of Fellows of the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, selected the recipients following recommendations from an advisory committee of students and faculty members.

Benjamin Affleck

Actor, director, producer, writer — Affleck has been deeply involved in every step of film production. He has been honored with an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for “Good Will Hunting” alongside his friend and fellow actor Matt Damon, and his 2012 film “Argo” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. He has starred in blockbusters like “Pearl Harbor” and “Armageddon” and directed “The Town,” a crime drama set in his hometown of Boston. Affleck has also pursued philanthropy out of the public eye. After traveling to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to witness the humanitarian crisis there firsthand, he founded the Eastern Congo Initiative in 2010, which aims to promote sustainability, economic growth and accessible health care in the region. The organization also advocates for fair elections in the Congo. Affleck’s other charitable work includes activism for the Jimmy Fund, a Boston-based organization that channels funding to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for adult and pediatric oncology research, and for Feeding America, a national charity that aims to connect food banks across the country.

Stanley Falkow PhD’61

Falkow, a bacteriologist, is recognized as a pioneer in the field of microbial pathogenesis. After completing his doctorate at Brown, he joined the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and rose to assistant chief of the Department of Bacterial Immunology. During this time, Falkow’s research examined the genetic foundations for antibiotic resistance in bacteria. He has also worked as a faculty member of the Georgetown University and University of Washington medical schools. “Bacteria are important in all facets of life, from making sauerkraut to what goes on in the soil,” he told USA Today in a 2009 article. “I became enchanted with bacteria and the discovery of organisms that cause disease.” He served as chair of the Department of Medical Microbiology at Stanford University’s medical school from 1981 to 1985 and retired from the department in 2010. In 2008, Falkow received the Lasker Medical Prize for his research, which has focused on the “microbial perspective” of disease. At age 72, Falkow received his pilot’s license and now spends his time flying planes and fly-fishing.

Junot Diaz

“I didn’t learn to read until I was seven,” writer Junot Diaz revealed in an interview with the New York Times last fall. Having immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic at age six, he grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Rutgers University in 1992. His novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008. He now sits on the Pulitzer Prize Board, which judges entries each year, and is the first Hispanic individual to hold the position. Diaz is also known for his shorter works — he has published two short story collections, “Drown” and “This is How You Lose Her,” and has contributed to the New Yorker and the Paris Review. In addition to writing, Diaz is fiction editor at the Boston Review and a creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Diaz also works as honorary chairman of the DREAM Project, an organization that aims to increase education opportunities for children in the Dominican Republic.

Beverly Wade Hogan

Hogan became the first female president of Tougaloo College, her alma mater, with her appointment in May 2002. A life-long resident of Mississippi, she was drawn to community activism from an early age. Following graduation, Hogan focused on mental health in her work as a therapist and then as the executive director of the Mississippi Mental Health Association. She also organized the first rape crisis and domestic abuse response centers in the state. Her academic papers have highlighted the need for pay equity and fair working conditions. Since Hogan was appointed president, enrollment has increased 12 percent and retention has increased 68 percent, according to the school’s website. This honorary degree coincides with the 50th anniversary of the partnership between Brown and Tougaloo. The partnership developed amid the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and has grown to offer semester study exchanges and early opportunities for graduate school enrollment.

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Lavizzo-Mourey, a daughter of two physicians, knew she wanted to be a doctor as a child. She studied as an undergraduate at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and received her MD from Harvard Medical School before interning at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Perhaps best known for her role as president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Lavizzo-Mourey has focused her career on public health initiatives. She took the helm of the foundation, an organization that stresses the need for reducing costs and improving quality in the health care system, in 2003. The foundation’s work encompasses childhood obesity prevention, disease prevention and insurance coverage. Lavizzo-Mourey was trained in geriatrics and served as chief of geriatric medicine at Penn’s medical school, where she was recognized for her focus on patients — she made house calls and created teams of caregivers, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s website.

Eduardo Padron

Presiding over a student body of approximately 175,000, Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron described the institution in a College Board interview as “a community of true believers passionate about the mission of a college with an open door.” Under Padron, more minority students have graduated from Miami Dade than any other college or university in the country. He has advised six presidential administrations, most recently as chair of the White House Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans under President Obama. Padron immigrated to the United States as a Cuban refugee at age 15 with little knowledge of English. He completed high school and attended what was then known as Dade County Junior College, now Miami Dade, completing his graduate studies at the University of Florida with a PhD in economics. Padron has dedicated his career to ensuring students receive high-quality education at an affordable price. “Our concern is making sure that people who have the least opportunity are given a chance to get an education,” he told Miami Today in 2012.