University News

Corporation selects eight recipients for honorary degrees

By
News Editor
Wednesday, April 18, 2012

President Ruth Simmons will present eight honorary degrees on behalf of the University to influential individuals who are leaders in their fields during Commencement Weekend. The recipients were selected by the Board of Fellows of the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, following recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Honorary Degrees, composed of faculty and students, which seeks candidate nominations from the University community.

The recipients this year come from a variety of fields, including science, politics and media. “You always try to go for a diverse array,” said Samuel Magaram ’12, one of two undergraduates on the advisory committee.

This year’s recipients include chemist Carolyn Bertozzi, award-winning actress Viola Davis, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., Pulitzer Prize-winner Marilynne Robinson ’66, musician Sebastian Ruth ’97, journalist Diane Sawyer, political theorist Gene Sharp and engineer Wei Yang PhD ’85.

Bertozzi, a professor of chemistry and molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley, is renowned for advancing bioorthogonal chemistry. A number of her inventions in bioorthogonal chemistry have been used in diagnostics and therapeutic applications, according to the press release.

Davis has appeared in more than 20 films and a variety of other productions during her 15 years as a professional actress. She was recently nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Aibileen Clark in the 2011 film “The Help.” Davis grew up attending public schools in the Central Falls area and graduated from Rhode Island College in 1988.

Lewis will be honored for his lifelong commitment to human rights, demonstrated by his bravery during the civil rights movement and his current ethical leadership in Washington, according to the press release. Lewis participated in protests against segregation, serving as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and helping to organize the August 1963 March on Washington. Lewis was elected to his current position in Congress in November 1986.

Robinson has written three well-received novels since her time at Brown. “Housekeeping,” Robinson’s first novel, published in 1980, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and was named one of the books of the century by the New York Times. Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for her second novel, “Gilead,” published in 2004.

Ruth, a violist and violinist, is being awarded for his involvement in the Providence community through music. Ruth established the nonprofit organization Community MusicWorks in the West End of Providence upon graduating from Brown. Community MusicWorks offers musical instruction to community members for free and seeks to use music to enrich the community, according to the press release. The organization was awarded the 2010 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama, and Ruth won the MacArthur “Genius Award” two years ago.

Sawyer is a renowned broadcast journalist and anchor for “World News” on ABC. She has been honored for her journalism with numerous awards ­- duPonts, Peabodys, Emmys and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. – and entered the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1997.

Sharp has explored the use of nonviolence in bringing about social change. Sharp is a graduate of Ohio State University, where he earned undergraduate honors in political science, debate and sociology in 1941 and a master’s in sociology in 1951. Sharp conducted research on nonviolent action in New York City, resulting in his first book which was published in 1960.

Yang, engineer and president of Zhejiang University in China, will be recognized for his research and his service in education. Hailing from Beijing, Yang received a bachelor’s of science in 1976 from Northwestern Polytechnic University and a master’s of science from Tsinghua University in 1981 before coming to Brown.

The University has awarded honorary degrees to notable individuals for almost 250 years, wrote Mark Nickel, senior editor for public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald. Past honorees include the first three U.S. presidents, as well as more recent figures such as Julia Child in 2000 and Nelson Mandela in 2010.

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