Betts, Flowers, Gottlieb ’94 Receive Honorary Degrees

Editorial StaffMay 26, 20216min
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During Wesleyan’s 189th Commencement on Wednesday, May 26, the University presented three honorary degrees to Reginald Dwayne Betts, Catherine Coleman Flowers, and Scott Gottlieb ’94 for their significant contributions to the social, environmental, and public health of the United States.

Roth and Reginald Dwayne Betts
Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 and Reginald Dwayne Betts Hon. ’21

Reginald Dwayne Betts, who also delivered this year’s Commencement address, was named an honorary doctor of letters in recognition of his impact and influence as a poet, scholar, and advocate and for his “perseverance . . . poetic sensibilities, and embrace of education to empower life [and] use of that empowerment and those sensibilities to improve the lives of others.”

An award-winning author and memoirist, Betts is also the founder and director of the Million Book Project, a social justice initiative that seeks to extend meaningful and transformative access to books (on poetry, literature, history, social thought, and other curated topics) for incarcerated people across the prison system and to increase their engagement with the literary community.

Himself sentenced to nine years in maximum security prison at age 16, Betts has since earned a BA from the University of Maryland, an MFA from Warren Wilson College, a JD from Yale Law School, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Law at Yale University. He has received an appointment from Governor Ned Lamont to Connecticut’s Criminal Justice Commission, the state body that hires all state prosecutors, and he continues to lecture on his formative experiences and the importance that grit, perseverance, and literature have played in his success, as well as the intersection between literature and advocacy.

Catherine Coleman Flowers Hon. ’21

Catherine Coleman Flowers is a teacher, scholar, author, and activist renowned for her focus on environmental justice. In awarding her an honorary doctor of science, Wesleyan recognized Flowers for helping “address the issue of failing water and waste infrastructure in rural communities and educat[ing] us about the environmental problems resulting from—and contributing to—structural inequalities.”

A native of Lowndes County, Alabama, Flowers is the founding director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice. She also is the rural development manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, a senior fellow for the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, and a member of the board of directors of the Climate Reality Project and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Flowers was recently appointed to the Biden-Sanders Task Force on Climate Change. View Flowers’s commencement speech here.

Roth and Scott Gottlieb ’94
President Roth and Scott Gottlieb ’94, Hon. ’21.

Scott Gottlieb ’94 was also named an honorary doctor of science. A physician, public health and policy advisor and advocate, and a special partner with the venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates, Dr. Gottlieb served as the 23rd commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2017 to 2019 and is currently a resident fellow at public policy think tank the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

In presenting the honor, Provost Nicole Stanton lauded Dr. Gottlieb for his efforts in battling some of the “most formidable health challenges of our time” and cited his achievements in dealing with the opioid crisis, the epidemic use of electronic cigarettes, and drug pricing, as well as his willingness to speak up and educate others on the nature of the COVID-19 virus.

After graduating from Wesleyan with a BA in economics, Dr. Gottlieb earned his MD from Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He serves on the boards of Pfizer, Illumina, Aetion, and Tempus; was previously a senior policy advisor to the administrator at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; and is a frequent contributor to CNBC and CBS’s Face the Nation. His commentary and articles have been published in Health Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among many others. View Dr. Gottlieb’s commencement speech here.

A list of past honorary degree recipients and Commencement speakers is available here. The President’s Office welcomes suggestions for future recipients of honorary degrees. For more information contact