Honorary Degree Recipients

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Eight influential figures will receive honorary degrees from President Ruth Simmons 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.
 

Carolyn Bertozzi

Bertozzi, professor of chemistry and molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley, is widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of bioorthogonal chemistry and is renowned as an accomplished researcher and teacher. In 2005, at the age of 39, she became one of the youngest chemists ever to join the National Academy of Sciences. Bertozzi is also active in outreach programs aimed at increasing female participation in the sciences. She graduated from Harvard in 1988 and received her doctorate in chemistry five years later from Berkeley. She pursued postdoctoral work at the University of California at San Francisco before returning to Berkeley in 1996 as a faculty member.

Viola Davis

Davis has won two Tony Awards for acting and recently received an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination for her portrayal of Aibileen Clark in “The Help.” Originally from South Carolina, Davis grew up attending public schools in the Central Falls area of Rhode Island and graduated from Rhode Island College in 1988 as a theater major. She performed with the Trinity Repertory Company during its 1988-89 season and helped start a theater program at a charter school in Central Falls. Davis continued her studies at the Juilliard School and has since appeared in more than 20 films and eight Broadway and off-Broadway theatrical performances.

John Lewis

Rep. Lewis, D-Ga., is a dedicated advocate for human rights and ethical leadership. Born and raised in Alabama, Lewis was influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. and the activism of the era in which he grew up. During the 1960s, Lewis protested segregation, organizing sit-ins while a student at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tenn., and participating in the Freedom Rides. He also served as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and helped organize the August 1963 March on Washington, D.C. Lewis entered politics in 1981 when he was elected to the Atlanta City Council. He has represented Georgia’s Fifth District in Congress since 1987.
 

Marilynne Robinson ’66

Robinson is the author of three novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Gilead.” Robinson’s first novel, “Housekeeping,” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and named one of the greatest novels of all time by the Guardian Observer. A 1966 magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Pembroke College, Robinson received a doctoral degree in English from the University of Washington in 1977. “I have wonderful memories of Brown,” Robinson wrote in an email to The Herald. “I have continued to benefit from my undergraduate education for decades, and I am gratified to know that Brown considers me to have made good use of it.” Robinson teaches at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lectures at institutions across the United States.
 

Sebastian Ruth ’97

Ruth, a violist and violinist, will be honored for his dedication to enriching the Providence community through music. Community MusicWorks, the nonprofit organization he founded after graduating from Brown, is home to the Providence String Quartet and offers free musical instruction to local residents. The quartet members also host artists-in-residence, commission new pieces of music and offer fellowships for up-and-coming musicians. First Lady Michelle Obama recognized Community MusicWorks with the 2010 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. Ruth, a MacArthur “genius award” recipient, sits on the boards of the International Musical Arts Institute and Music Haven, a nonprofit modeled on Community MusicWorks based in New Haven, Conn.

Diane Sawyer

Broadcast journalist Sawyer has received many honors for her work, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. and induction into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. A 1967 graduate of Wellesley College, she began her television journalism career in her home state of Kentucky. She entered the national arena in 1980 as co-anchor of “CBS Morning News” and the first female correspondent for the network’s “60 Minutes.” Sawyer joined ABC in 1989 and served as co-anchor on “Primetime” and “Good Morning America” before becoming the anchor for “World News,” a position she has held since 2009.
 

Gene Sharp

Sharp, a political theorist, is noted for his work examining the role of nonviolence in movements of social change. Following his studies in political science, debate and sociology at Ohio State University, Sharp conducted independent research on nonviolent action in New York City for his first book, which was published in 1960. He served as a research associate at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard for almost 30 years and founded the nonprofit Albert Einstein Institution, which is dedicated to studying and promoting nonviolent action and advocating pro-democracy contingencies across the world. Sharp is currently a senior scholar at the Albert Einstein Institution and professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Sharp called the honorary degree “a major recognition from a highly respected university of the importance of the work I’ve been doing.”

Wei Yang PhD’85

Yang is a noted engineer and researcher. He has served as president of Zhejiang University in China since 2006. Yang is a proponent of global collaboration among universities, and many of his engineering students have gone on to hold teaching positions across the United States and Europe. After completing his studies at Northwestern Polytechnic University, Tsinghua University and Brown, Yang taught engineering at Tsinghua in 1985. He was dean of the Department of Engineering Mechanics for seven years. Yang also served as director of the Failure Mechanics Laboratory of the Chinese Ministry of Education and director-general of the Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council of China. He received Brown’s Engineering Alumni Medal in 2009.
 

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