This year Brown will award honorary degrees to eight individuals prominent in a variety of fields, including film, public service and historical scholarship. The recipients were selected by the Board of Fellows of the Corporation, based on recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Honorary Degrees. The committee, which is composed of faculty, staff and students, solicits nominations from the campus community each spring.
With five Academy Award nominations to his name, Memphis-born actor Morgan Freeman has had a long and distinguished film career. His most memorable big-screen performances include roles in "Driving Miss Daisy," "The Shawshank Redemption," "Million-Dollar Baby" and, most recently, a stint as fellow honorary degree recipient Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood's "Invictus."
Freeman's acting career began in the 1960s in on- and off-Broadway productions and soon expanded to the roles in television and movies. His varied career on the silver screen has included narrating the 2005 documentary "March of the Penguins" and playing Lucius Fox, Batman's technology supervisor in "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight." Nearly 40 years after his movie debut in the children's film "Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow?," Freeman is now the 10th highest-grossing actor of all time.
In 1968, Barbara Liskov was the first U.S. woman to earn a doctorate in computer science. Last year, Liskov, a professor and the associate provost for faculty equity at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, was honored with the A.M. Turing Award, the field's equivalent of a Nobel Prize.
Liskov's achievements in computer science include developing programming languages that ultimately laid the foundation for software programs on personal computers and the Internet. In her position as associate provost, Liskov works to increase minority representation among MIT's faculty.
"I think there has been a tremendous amount of progress," Liskov said of the number of female students and faculty in math, the sciences and engineering, though "we're still a long way from gender equity."
Former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela will receive an honorary degree in absentia at Brown's 242nd Commencement. A representative of the Embassy of South Africa will attend to accept the degree on his behalf.
Mandela and former president of South Africa Frederik Willem de Klerk received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their efforts to dismantle the country's system of apartheid. Mandela, who was South Africa's first black president, led the country from 1994 to 1999 in a period that sought truth, reconciliation and justice for the human rights violations committed during the apartheid period. Mandela began his political career in the 1940s, with a professed commitment to non-violent resistance, but came to see no alternative to violent methods of political struggle. In the early 1960s, Mandela co-founded the military wing of the African National Congress and was arrested in 1962, leading to a 27-year imprisonment on a sabotage charge. At the age of 91, Mandela remains one of South Africa's most iconic figures.
Iranian author Shahrnush Parsipur who began writing short stories at the age of 16 has been imprisoned four times over the course of her literary career. Parsipur and lives in California as a political refugee, is the author of "Touba and the Meaning of the Night" and "Women Without Men," two novels exploring women's place in Iranian society. The author was imprisoned twice for "Women Without Men," which speaks openly against women's sexual oppression.
Though "Touba" was a best-seller in Iran, Parsipur's work is now banned in her native country. Her writing, which includes numerous novels, short stories, essays and a memoir that recounts her experiences in jail, has been translated from Persian into English, German, Italian, Spanish and several other languages. Parsipur, who was the first recipient of Brown's International Writers Project Fellowship in 2003, has also received a Lillian Hellman/Dashiell Hammett Award from the Fund for Free Expression.
Cecile Richards '80
The national president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Cecile Richards '80 is a long-time advocate for social justice. She has worked as an organizer for low-wage workers and founded America Votes, a national coalition of more than 40 organizations that works on voting rights, voter education and mobilization and the Texas Freedom Network, a grassroots organization that monitors issues related to religious freedom and individual liberties in Texas.
David Rohde '90
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Rohde '90 will be giving this year's baccalaureate address. See his profile here.
Romila Thapar is a leading scholar of ancient Indian history. Her research integrates archaeology, mythology, philosophy, literature and other fields to challenge oversimplified portrayals of Indian history. She received her doctorate in 1958 from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies.
A professor emerita of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, Thapar is the author or co-author of 15 books and has taught at Cornell, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania. In 2008, she was a co-recipient of the $1 million Kluge Prize, awarded by the Library of Congress for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity.
Distinguished historian Gordon Wood formally retired in 2008, after nearly 40 years at Brown and five years of part-time teaching. But Wood — who lectured at the White House in 1991 on the presidency of George Washington — hasn't been idle since his retirement. His volume in the Oxford History of the United States, "Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815," was published in fall 2009 and was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for history. It won the New York Historical Society's annual book prize — an award whose other candidates included his daughter Amy's first book.
Wood's other books include Pulitzer winner "The Radicalism of the American Revolution" and "The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787." He is currently compiling a Library of America volume of John Adams' writing.