University News

Nine alums to receive honorary degrees

Forest ecologist Nalini Nadkarni ’76 tapped to deliver Baccalaureate address next month

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2014

In honor of Brown’s 250th anniversary celebration, all nine honorary degree recipients at the May 25 Commencement ceremony will be alums, the University announced Thursday. The honorees come from a diverse range of fields and include authors, scientists and educators.

Nalini Nadkarni ’76, a forest ecologist who has advocated for increased accessibility of science to the general public, will deliver the Baccalaureate address, according to a University press release.

“Oh my gosh, they’ve addressed this letter to the wrong person,” Nadkarni recalled thinking upon receiving a letter from the University about four months ago informing her that she had been selected to receive an honorary doctorate of science. Later, when she was selected to give the Baccalaureate address, she was “shocked” and considered it a “big responsibility,” she said.

Her talk will emphasize that graduating seniors can take a wide variety of unexpected paths. “Life isn’t a straight pathway,” she said. “Although we do have dreams and we think that we know where we want to go, it is important to be open to all the possibilities that our lives provide.”

Nadkarni also serves as a professor of biology and the director of the Center for Science and Mathematics Education at the University of Utah.

Lee Berk ’64, Arthur Horwich ’72 MD’75, Lois Lowry, a former member of the class of 1958, Debra Lee ’76, Mary Lou Jepsen ’87 PhD’97 and Jeffrey Eugenides ’83 will also receive honorary degrees and speak at Commencement forums May 24.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez ’83, who has worked as a civil rights lawyer and headed the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, will receive a doctorate of laws. Perez came to College Hill last month to deliver an address focusing on issues like the minimum wage and workforce development during the opening weekend of the University’s 250th anniversary.

Beatrice Coleman ’25 will be posthumously awarded a doctorate of humane letters. Coleman was one of only three black women in the class of 1925 and was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She was an accomplished pianist and had a passion for teaching before dying at age 109 earlier this month.

Lowry and Eugenides will both receive honorary doctorates of letters.

Lowry, an award-winning author of novels for children and young adults, is perhaps most well-known for her 1993 dystopian novel “The Giver.” She is a two-time winner of the Newberry Medal for “the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature by an American author,” according to the press release.

Eugenides is the author of several acclaimed books such as “The Virgin Suicides,” and “Middlesex,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction among other notable awards.

Doctorates of humane letters will be conferred upon Berk and Lee.

Berk, the president emeritus of Berklee College of Music, helped keep Berklee at the forefront of musical education when he led the college. He has also been active in widening access to musical instruction, particularly for “underserved urban students,” according to the press release.

Lee is the chairman and CEO of Black Entertainment Television Networks, which she has expanded into a powerful multimedia organization. She served two terms on the Board of Trustees for the Corporation, the University’s governing body. She endowed the Debra L. Lee Lecture on Slavery and Justice to bring experts on slavery to College Hill.

Horwich will receive an honorary doctorate of medical science. He has received numerous honors for his scientific research into protein folding, which has shone light on many degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Jepson, who has founded or co-founded four computer display startups, will receive a doctorate of science. A computer scientist, entrepreneur and engineer, Jepson has made major contributions to computer technology. Her innovations have also been used to spread technology to children worldwide through the nonprofit she co-founded, One Laptop Per Child.

Nadkarni said she felt “privileged” to be part of a group of individuals who have made such diverse and valuable impacts on the world. “I think what Brown is trying to transmit in honoring these different people is that they are proud of people who have tried to make some contributions to the world,” she added.

This will be the University’s 246th Commencement celebration.


A previous version of this article misstated the year in which Arthur Horwich received his Doctor of Medicine. It was 1975, not 1965. The Herald regrets the error.


  1. johnlonergan says:

    Really? Is this the best we can do? Are these the best and the brightest out there? I would love to see Brown offering awards to the next Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi.

    Why aren’t Brown grads making a bigger impact on the world?

    • Lonergan's Biggest Fan says:

      let’s give lonergan an honorary degree 2015 who’s with me??

    • I challenge you to name me one other famous alumnus (no wikipediaing) of the following institutions:
      University of Fort Hare
      Reed College
      ETH Zurich
      Samaldas College

      • johnlonergan says:

        No Wiki:

        Albert Einstein
        Steve Jobs (1 year for credit, 1 year auditing
        Nelson Mandela
        Mahatma Gandhi

        • Seriously? says:

          Way to comprehend the phrase “one other”

          • Could it be (choose one or more):
            1. John didn’t notice the words “one other”
            2. John didn’t understand the word “other”
            3. John was only focused on his own point
            4. John has poor vision and couldn’t make out the words
            5. John doesn’t care what you think

    • Such disrespect to these individuals. Instead of insulting these people, why not go make that bigger impact you so crave John?

    • Why do you value Brown on the presence or absence of a few famous individuals (who, as the poster below and you note, did not attend the universities that you usually cite as being leaps and bounds ahead of us)?

      I don’t see you doing much. Is that because Brown failed you?

      • johnlonergan says:

        Your ad hominem jibes are not argument, they’re petty.

        I didn’t say “famous,” I said “accomplished,” as in accomplished significant change in the world. I see no one of the caliber of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs or Albert Einstein in the bunch. Sorry, second rate doesn’t cut it. Not for Brown.

        • Second-rate pulitzer prize winners and CEOs.

          (As for the pettiness and ad hominems? John, take a look through your comment history some time.)

    • Seriously? says:

      Sorry these people aren’t out changing the world by trolling the BDH every day; I guess they’re too busy with their meager endeavors to contribute to the university’s reputation like you do.

    • grad student says:

      middlesex won the pulitzer!!!!!!!!!!!!! you desire too much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Is this a typo: Arthur Horwich ’72 MD’65
    How did Horwich get his MD 7 years before his bachelor’s?

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