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Six to receive honorary degrees

Actor and director Ben Affleck and writer Junot Diaz will be honored at Commencement

Artists, scientists and college presidents are among the six individuals selected to receive honorary doctorates at this year’s Commencement ceremony May 26 .

The group comprises actor and director Benjamin Affleck, writer Junot Diaz, bacteriologist Stanley Falkow PhD’61, Tougaloo College President Beverly Wade Hogan, physician and health care nonprofit president Risa Lavizzo-Mourey and Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron, according to a University press release.

Hogan will give the annual Baccalaureate address May 25.

The honorary doctorate recipients are selected by the Corporation in consultation with the Advisory Committee on Honorary Degrees, a group composed of faculty members, a graduate student and an undergraduate student. The committee solicits submissions from the Brown community at large, whose nominations it may then pass on to the Corporation’s Board of Fellows for a final decision.

The Advisory Committee seeks recommendations for individuals who are revolutionaries in their fields, said Cade Howard ’14, the undergraduate member of the committee.

“The University looks for individuals who have, among other things, distinguished themselves in a particular field and embody the essential values of Brown,” wrote Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald.

“What’s outstanding about this group is … they’re all kind of diversified,” Howard said.

Affleck, best known as a film actor and director, is slated to receive a Doctor of Fine Arts. His 2012 film, “Argo,” was honored with the Academy Award for Best Picture. He has also worked as a writer and producer and shared the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with Matt Damon for their work on “Good Will Hunting.”

Affleck’s philanthropic work covers diverse areas, according to the release. His Eastern Congo Initiative, founded in 2010, aims to increase the visibility of social, economic and health care issues in Congolese communities, according to its website. He is also active in Feeding America, a nonprofit aimed at supplying food banks, and the Jimmy Fund, a Boston-based cancer research charity.

Writer and professor Diaz will receive a Doctor of Letters. Born in the Dominican Republic, he immigrated to the United States at age six, according to the release. Diaz is a creative writing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and fiction editor for the Boston Review. His 2008 novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In a 2012 New York Times review of his short story collection, “This Is How You Lose Her,” he is described as “almost too good for his own good.”

Among the others honored is bacteriologist Falkow, who will accept a Doctor of Science. He studies the molecular foundations for disease, beginning when bacteria enter healthy cells. Falkow’s research has shed light on factors determining infections brought on by salmonella and E. coli, among others. Having retired from the Stanford School of Medicine three years ago, at age 72, he received a flying license and is an avid fly fisherman.

Falkow will also deliver Saturday morning and afternoon’s Commencement forums, titled “The Impact of Infectious Diseases on History,” according to the release.

Tougaloo College President Hogan will be honored with a Doctor of Humane Letters. Hogan has been a life-long community welfare advocate, working on health care, mental health services and worker compensation, according to the release. She became president of Tougaloo in 2002, and her honorary doctorate coincides with the 50th anniversary of a partnership between her school and the University.

A Doctor of Medical Science will be given to Lavizzo-Mourey, a physician, president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Under her leadership, this health care nonprofit has worked to reduce childhood obesity and control rising health care costs and strived for universal access to health care. Lavizzo-Mourey is also a member of the President’s Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

Padron, who currently serves as Miami Dade College president, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters. Padron has been the college’s president since 1995. He emigrated from Cuba at age 15 and attended high school, college and graduate school in Florida. In 2009, Time Magazine named him one of the ten best college presidents in the country for helping to “revolutionize the role of two-year community colleges in the U.S., raising their academic stature while preserving their mission to teach underserved populations.”

According to the Encyclopedia Brunoniana, honorary degrees have been a tradition since the first Commencement ceremony, at which 21 Masters of Arts degrees were awarded. It was not until 1784 that doctorate degrees became customary.


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