Announcing 192nd Commencement Honorary Degree Recipients and Speaker

James SimsJanuary 31, 20246min

Imani Perry, a 2023 MacArthur Fellow and distinguished Harvard University professor, will deliver the commencement address at Wesleyan University’s 192nd Commencement ceremony on May 26, 2024. Perry will also receive an honorary degree alongside fellow recipients Raj Chetty, renowned for his studies of higher education and social mobility, and Michael Greenberg ’76, P’14, one of the world’s most distinguished neuroscientists.

“At a time when the Academy is under fire, the inspiring achievements of these honorees shows just how powerful and beneficial academic work at the highest level can be,” said President Michael S. Roth ’78. “Award-winning author and professor of African and African American Studies, Imani Perry memorably illuminates the stories of the oppressed, exploring the work of thinkers and artists facing the realities of domination. Renowned economist Raj Chetty has greatly increased our understanding of economic mobility, equality of opportunity, and the importance of good teaching. And Michael Greenberg, a proud Wesleyan alumnus and parent, has dedicated his life’s work to researching the human brain, receiving the highest personal honor in his field with the Brain Prize of 2023.”

Imani Perry is the Henry A. Morss, Jr. and Elisabeth W. Morss Professor of Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and African American Studies at Harvard University where she is also Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute. Perry is the author of eight books, including South to America: A Journey Below the Mason Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation which received the 2022 National Book Award for Nonfiction, and other award-winning titles: Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry and May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem. Her writing and scholarship primarily focus on the history of Black thought, art, organizing, and imagination. She is particularly concerned with the architectures of social, political and legal domination, and how communities imagine and pursue liberation. Perry earned her PhD in American Studies from Harvard University, a JD from Harvard Law School, an LLM from Georgetown University Law Center in 19th century property and contract law, and a BA from Yale University in Literature and American Studies. Perry publishes widely on art, culture, literature, and politics in publications including the New York Times, The Atlantic, Harper’s Bazaar, and Harper’s.

Raj Chetty is the William A. Ackman Professor of Public Economics at Harvard University. He is also the Director of Opportunity Insights, which uses “big data” to understand how we can give children from disadvantaged backgrounds better chances of succeeding. Chetty’s research combines empirical evidence and economic theory to help design more effective government policies. His work on topics ranging from tax policy and unemployment insurance to education and affordable housing has been widely cited in academia, media outlets, and Congressional testimony. Chetty received his PhD from Harvard University in 2003 and is one of the youngest tenured professors in Harvard’s history. Before joining the faculty at Harvard, he was a professor at UC-Berkeley and Stanford University. Chetty has received numerous awards for his research, including a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and the John Bates Clark medal, given to the economist under 40 whose work is judged to have made the most significant contribution to the field.

Michael Greenberg received a BA in Chemistry from Wesleyan University in 1976, and a PhD in Biochemistry from the Rockefeller University, New York, in 1982. In 1986 he was appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Genetics at Harvard Medical School, and he was made full Professor in 1994. Since 2008 he has been the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. Greenberg’s seminal discoveries of activity-dependent gene transcription have revealed how nature and nurture cooperate to shape mammalian brain development and plasticity. Building on his early observation that neurotransmitter reception triggers the rapid induction of new gene expression, his work has focused on elucidating the nature and role of neuronal transcriptional programs induced in response to extracellular stimuli. Work in the Greenberg laboratory has characterized the signal transduction pathways linking calcium influx at distal synapses to the neuronal nucleus, uncovered an extensive network of neuronal activity-responsive cis-regulatory elements that coordinate these gene expression changes, and demonstrated significant neuronal cell-type- and species-specific diversity in these transcriptional responses. These studies have uncovered an important role for activity-dependent transcriptional responses in dynamically sculpting specific aspects of neuronal connectivity. Current work in his laboratory focuses on how these changes contribute to experience-dependent behavioral plasticity and understanding the basis of neurological diseases that arise when these processes have gone awry.

A list of past honorary degree recipients and Commencement speakers is available on the Wesleyan website. We welcome suggestions for future recipients of honorary degrees.