From best-selling authors to a member of the presidential cabinet, this year’s honorary degree recipients share something special — a common history of study at Brown. The honorees, who will be granted their degrees at Sunday’s Commencement ceremony, come from a diverse range of fields and include executives, scientists and educators.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez ’83, who has worked as a civil rights lawyer and headed the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, will receive a doctorate of laws. Perez participated in the opening weekend of the University’s 250th anniversary with a conversation covering issues such as minimum wage and workforce development.
Lois Lowry, a former member of the class of 1958, Lee Berk ’64, Arthur Horwich ’72 MD’75, Debra Lee ’76, Mary Lou Jepsen ’87 PhD’97 and Jeffrey Eugenides ’83 will also receive honorary degrees and speak at Commencement Forums May 24. Beatrice Coleman ’25 will be honored posthumously.
Nalini Nadkarni ’76, a forest ecologist who has advocated increased accessibility of science to the general public, will deliver Saturday’s Baccalaureate address, according to a University press release.
“Oh my gosh, they’ve addressed this letter to the wrong person,” Nadkarni recalled thinking when she learned of her selection for an honorary doctorate of science. Later, when she was invited to give the Baccalaureate address, she was “shocked” and considered it a “big responsibility,” she said. Her talk will emphasize that graduating seniors can take a wide variety of unexpected paths. “Although we do have dreams and we think that we know where we want to go, it is important to be open to all the possibilities that our lives provide,” she said.
Lowry and Eugenides will both receive honorary doctorates of letters.
Lowry, an award-winning author of novels for children and young adults, is perhaps best known for her 1993 dystopian novel “The Giver.” She is a two-time winner of the Newberry Medal for “the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature by an American author,” according to the press release.
Eugenides is the author of several acclaimed books including “The Virgin Suicides,” and “Middlesex,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction among other notable awards.
Berk and Lee will receive doctorates of humane letters.
Berk, president emeritus of Berklee College of Music, helped keep Berklee at the forefront of musical education when he led the college. He has also been active in widening access to musical instruction, particularly for “underserved urban students,” according to the press release.
Lee is the chairman and CEO of Black Entertainment Television Networks. She served two terms on the University’s Board of Trustees for the Corporation, and she endowed the Debra L. Lee Lecture on Slavery and Justice to bring experts on slavery to College Hill.
Horwich will receive an honorary doctorate of medical science. He has received numerous honors for his scientific research into protein folding, which could help further research on degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Jepsen, who has founded or co-founded four computer display startups, will receive a doctorate of science. A computer scientist, entrepreneur and engineer, Jepsen has made major contributions to computer technology. Her innovations have also been used to spread technology to children worldwide through the nonprofit she co-founded, One Laptop Per Child.
Coleman will be awarded a doctorate of humane letters. She was one of only three black women in the class of 1925 and was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Coleman, who died at age 109 this April, was an accomplished pianist and had a passion for teaching.
Nadkarni said she felt “privileged” to be part of a group of individuals who have made such diverse and valuable impacts on the world. “I think what Brown is trying to transmit in honoring these different people is that they are proud of people who have tried to make some contributions to the world,” she said.