Tag Archive for Honorary Degrees

Wesleyan Announces Its 2021 Honorary Degree Recipients

Wesleyan has announced the speaker and honorary degree recipients for its 189th Commencement.

The date of Commencement was previously announced as May 30th; however, given current pandemic conditions, the University is reviewing other options for the last week of May. The University is currently planning to hold the ceremony in-person on Wesleyan’s Middletown campus, though off-campus guests will be restricted to virtual attendance given the ongoing threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. More details about the ceremony and a definitive date for Commencement will be announced by the end of March.

Reginald Dwayne Betts, an award-winning poet, memoirist, and teacher, is this year’s commencement speaker. MacArthur-winning researcher, writer, and activist Catherine Coleman Flowers and Scott Gottlieb ’94, a physician and former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, also will be honored. The recipients were chosen on the basis of their significant contributions to the social, environmental, and public health of the United States.

“Be it through teaching, art, advocacy, medicine, or policy-making, these three individuals offer us shining examples of how we can work to forge better futures,” said Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78. “Despite difficult circumstances, like the current public health situation, Reginald, Catherine, and Scott represent our ability to make progress on seemingly intractable problems, and, through their efforts, inspire us to direct our talents toward meaningful action.”

Stevenson, Smith, Appiah Receive Honorary Degrees

From left, Michael Roth, Bryan Stevenson, Patti Smith, Anthony Appiah, Joshua Boger. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

From left, Wesleyan President Michael Roth, Bryan Stevenson, Patti Smith and Kwame Anthony Appiah. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

Wesleyan presented honorary doctorates to Bryan Stevenson, Patti Smith and Kwame Anthony Appiah during the University’s 184th Commencement on May 22.

Michael Roth, Bryan Stevenson.

Michael Roth and Bryan Stevenson.

Bryan Stevenson is a human rights lawyer who has dedicated his life to fighting racial injustice and discrimination in the criminal justice system. He is executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), an Alabama-based group that has won numerous legal challenges on behalf of the poor and incarcerated, including a historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling holding that life-without-parole sentences for children aged 17 or younger are unconstitutional.

He founded the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989 to help prisoners on death row, and the scope of its mission has expanded since. Under his leadership, EJI has won a number of major legal challenges—eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. He has successfully argued several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and he and his staff have won reversals, relief or release for more than 115 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. Professor Stevenson has initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge the legacy of racial inequality in America, including projects to educate communities about slavery, lynching and racial segregation.

Professor Stevenson also teaches at the New York University School of Law. He is a 1985 graduate of Harvard, with both a master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government and a J.D. from the Harvard Law School. Among the numerous honors accorded him are a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Olof Palme Prize in Stockholm for international human rights. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014. He is the author of the bestseller Just Mercy, winner of the 2015 Carnegie Medal for Best Nonfiction and named by Time magazine as one of the 10 Best Books of Nonfiction for 2014.

Michael Roth and Patti Smith.

Michael Roth and Patti Smith.

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary mergence of poetry and rock and has recorded 13 albums. Her seminal album Horses (1975) has been inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress/National Recording Preservation Board.

Her acclaimed memoir, Just Kids, chronicling her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, was awarded the 2010 National Book Award. Her books include Witt, Babel, Coral Sea, Woolgathering, Auguries of Innocence and the recent M Train.

The French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the prestigious title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres, the highest honor awarded to an artist by the French Republic. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007 and in 2011 was the recipient of Sweden’s Polar Award, for significant achievements in music.

The anthem People Have the Power, written and recorded with her late husband Fred Sonic Smith, is used globally to call for collective unity and social justice. Smith lends her support to many causes, believing it is essential to use one’s creative powers to increase awareness of environmental issues, disease, poverty and human rights violations.

Michael Roth and Kwame Anthony Appaih.

Michael Roth and Kwame Anthony Appaih.

Kwame Anthony Appiah is professor of philosophy and law at New York University, teaching in New York, Abu Dhabi and other NYU Global Centers. He has held a number of other distinguished academic appointments as well, most recently at Princeton in the philosophy department and the University Center for Human Values. He also has taught at Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Harvard universities and has lectured worldwide.

Professor Appiah is renowned for his insights into moral theory and practice, racism and identity, cultural differences and political development. His 1992 book, In My Father’s House (Oxford University Press), explores the role of African and African-American intellectuals in shaping contemporary African cultural life and was recognized by the African Studies Association with its Herskovits Award as “the most important scholarly work in African studies published in English.” His vast and wide-ranging scholarly activities earned him Forbes’ designation in 2009 as one of the world’s seven most powerful thinkers. In October 2015, he began to write the weekly Ethicist column for The New York Times Magazine, answering readers’ questions about their ethical quandaries.

Professor Appiah holds BA and PhD degrees from Cambridge University. His numerous honors include election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. President Obama presented him with the National Humanities Medal in 2012.

Wesleyan Confers Honorary Degrees on White, Shaw ’76, Kraemer

Pictured, from left, are Hayden White, Ted Shaw '76, Wesleyan President Michael Roth and Helena Chmura Kraemer. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

Pictured, from left, are Hayden White, Ted Shaw ’76, Wesleyan President Michael Roth and Helena Chmura Kraemer. (Photo by John Van Vlack)

During Wesleyan’s Commencement Ceremony on May 25, Wesleyan President Michael Roth awarded honorary degrees to Hayden White, Theodore Shaw ’76 and Helena Chmura Kraemer.

Theodore Shaw ’76

Ted Shaw and President Michael Roth.

Ted Shaw and President Michael Roth.

For decades, Theodore (“Ted”) Shaw has been one of the nation’s strongest advocates for equity and inclusion in our society. In courts throughout the nation, including the U.S. Supreme Court, he has argued cases involving voting rights, education, housing discrimination, capital punishment, and civil rights. He played a key role in initiating and drafting the admissions policy that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, and he has often testified before Congress and other legislative bodies.

He has worked with human rights lawyers in Africa, South America, Europe, and Asia, written numerous articles and opinion pieces for national publications, and has often provided expert commentary for television and radio shows.

He has been named the Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and the director of the University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights, after having served as professor of professional practice at the Columbia University School of Law. He also is “Of Counsel” to Fulbright Norton Rose. For 23 years, he served as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, concluding as director-counsel and president from 2004–2008. He obtained his law degree from the Columbia Law School and started his career as a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice.

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, he currently serves on the board of the Wesleyan University Center for Prison Education. He is a trustee emeritus of Wesleyan.


Helena Chmura Kraemer

Helena Chmura Kraemer and Wesleyan President Michael Roth.

Helena Chmura Kraemer and Wesleyan President Michael Roth.

Helena Chmura Kraemer, professor of biostatistics in psychiatry, emerita, at Stanford University, is one of the nation’s foremost authorities in evidence-based medicine and in the use of statistical analysis for answering pressing questions in public health. She has transformed methods for determining the efficacy of treatments or preventive interventions, measuring risk factors for diseases, and determining how to formulate public policy so as to do the most good with limited resources. Most recently, she played a leading role in revising the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, providing crucial guidance for medical researchers and clinicians.

She is widely regarded as a superb teacher and an inspiration to women in nontraditional fields of research. Her many honors include membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the Franklin Ebaugh Prize from Stanford University, the Harvard Prize in Psychiatric Biostatistics and Epidemiology, and a Fulbright Scholarship.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Smith College, she holds a Ph.D. in statistics from Stanford University.

Hayden White

Hayden White and President Michael Roth.

Hayden White and President Michael Roth.

Hayden White is widely regarded as one of the most important theorists of history of the last 50 years. In one of his best known works, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (1973), he argues that historians impose their own structure on the past by creating literary narratives that cannot be truly objective but nonetheless give history its meaning. Professor White’s own contributions to how we understand meaning and culture are profound, and he has had a powerful influence on humanists around the world.

He is a former director of Wesleyan’s Center for the Humanities (1973–76) and is a contributor to Wesleyan’s journal History and Theory. He has returned often to campus; last May, for instance, when he met with a group of scholars from China and the United States to discuss comparative approaches to the Enlightenment.

He is university professor and professor of history of consciousness, emeritus, at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and formerly was professor of comparative literature at Stanford University. He received his BA degree from Wayne State University and his MA and PhD from the University of Michigan.

Among his many honors, he is fellow, American Philosophical Society; fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and a recipient of an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from the University of Michigan.

Wesleyan Announces Commencement Speaker, Honorary Degree Recipients

Wesleyan will honor three extraordinary alumni at the University’s 181st Commencement on May 26. Joss Whedon ’87, film and television director, writer and producer, will deliver the commencement address. Honorary degrees also will be presented to environmental and social justice leader Majora Carter ’88 and Jim Dresser ’63, whose many years of service to Wesleyan include having chaired the Board of Trustees.

Joss Whedon ’87

Joss Whedon ’87 (photo by Dax Henry and Anais Wade for The New York Times)

Joss Whedon ’87 is an award-winning writer, director and producer. He is the force behind such popular television shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and the 2012 superhero blockbuster film, The Avengers.

The son and grandson of successful television writers, Whedon was raised in New York and studied film at Wesleyan. After graduating, he landed his first TV writing job on the show Roseanne. He developed a script for the 1992 film, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which in 1996 he adapted as the cult hit television show by the same name. Buffy ran for seven seasons; Whedon was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series in 2000. The spin-off from Buffy, titled Angel, ran for five seasons. He subsequently created the space-western TV show, Firefly, and a film of the same premise, Serenity, which won a 2006 Hugo Award.

Whedon also wrote and co-wrote on numerous films, including Toy Story (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award). In 2008, he produced a short web-exclusive musical comedy, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, which won an Emmy Award and a Hugo Award, among other honors.

In April 2012, The Avengers, a live-action adaptation of the Marvel Comics superhero team, directed and co-written by Whedon, had the biggest opening weekend of all time, and became the third highest-grossing film ever. He is currently writing and will direct the sequel. Most recently Whedon directed a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

In 2009, Whedon delivered the Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns keynote address at Wesleyan. In 2010, he was honored by the Producers Guild of America with its Vanguard Award, which recognizes achievements in new media and technology.

Wesleyan Celebrates 179th Commencement, Class of 2011

Wesleyan’s 179th annual Commencement ceremonies were held on Andrus Field on May 22.

“Keep the habits of critical analysis you’ve learned at Wesleyan. This may sound like an austere and overly-sober message,” said Dr. Paul E. Farmer. “But by critical I don’t mean you should be contrarian…By being critical I mean taking an extra moment to interrogate accepted wisdom.”

This observation was the cornerstone of the address delivered by Dr. Farmer at the 179th Commencement Ceremonies at Wesleyan University, on Sunday, May 22.

Farmer, a physician-anthropologist and author, founded Partners in Health, an international nonprofit organization that provides direct health care services to the sick living in poverty. Partners in Health also undertakes research and advocacy on behalf of under-served, impoverished populations. Farmer is also the Kolokotrones University Professor and Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital; and the United Nations Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti under former U.S. President Bill Clinton.