Twelve individuals who have achieved distinction in their fields were awarded honorary degrees at Yale University’s 2014 Commencement ceremony on May 19. Here are the citations that President Peter Salovey read as they received their degrees. Read their biographies.
Sir Timothy Berners-Lee
Doctor of Engineering and Technology
As the creator of the World Wide Web, you have transformed our global village, revolutionized the flow of knowledge, and changed the way we live. Generous with your genius, you shared your invention without restrictions or royalties. By conceiving hypertext protocols for the Internet, you put the power of computing in the hands of almost anyone, with the goal of making the Web a universal medium. You have democratized access to information, and in so doing, have made the sum of human knowledge greater than its separate parts. You have woven the web that connects us all, and we are honored to name you Doctor of Engineering and Technology.
Doctor of Letters
For almost forty years, you have graced us with lyrical poetry that dances and sings off the page — waltzing, lilting, bugling. Your poems capture and entwine a nation’s history and our inner lives with astute clarity, while your drama has startled audiences and readers into new visions of the past. As our youngest Poet Laureate, you have been a passionate advocate for cultural and literary diversity, and you have communicated your own love of books to others through your writing, your outreach, and your example. You have not kept quiet in noisy times, but rather have spoken out in clear and convincing verse, showing us the power of poetry to transform and transcend. We are pleased to bestow on you this degree of Doctor of Letters.
Doctor of Humanities
As a sage voice of progressive India, you are a leading public intellectual. Your work is brilliant and varied in its scope. You are an incisive essayist of your country’s vibrant and clamorous politics and society, a renowned historian of modern India, and the definitive biographer of Gandhi. Whether writing about cricket or commenting on contemporary Indian life, you capture the spirit of your nation and its past, while opening new understandings of its present and the promise of its future. As a gifted teacher, you have shared your talents with us at Yale, and we are delighted to have you return to campus, this time as Doctor of Humanities.
Doctor of Social Science
You have devoted a lifetime to thinking about how we think, both fast and slow. From childhood you experienced the worst and the best of people’s actions, and your observations led you to understand that we are not always the rational beings we imagine ourselves to be. The field of behavioral economics was born from your scholarship, and your pathbreaking work has given psychologists and economists new tools with which to explore human behavior and cognition. Your noble accomplishments include teaching generations of students and influencing scholars across disciplines. We are honored to name you Doctor of Social Science.
Elliot M. Meyerowitz
Doctor of Science
From fruit flies to flowers, your research has provided new insight into the ways genes govern organic development. Working with seemingly simple plants, you have made complex discoveries linking genetic networks to cell communications in the growing tips of plants, explaining the flowering of the planet. Your work has yielded innovative approaches to plant science, attracting a new generation of scholars to the analysis of how things grow, helping to feed the world. You also excel outside the lab as a dedicated mentor and superb collaborator. You are one of Yale’s own, and we are proud to award your second Yale degree Doctor of Science.
Joseph W. Polisi
Doctor of Music
For thirty years, you have led Juilliard, the world’s leading conservatory for professional training in music, dance, and drama. A compelling advocate for the arts, you are a gifted musician, teacher, and administrator. You have been instrumental in creating community outreach programs, bringing the arts to children in city schools, and working for curriculum reform to embrace the arts. You have used your background in international relations to further musical diplomacy in international settings and to promote the role of the arts in public discourse and experience. You are one of Yale’s own, and we are proud to award this degree of Doctor of Music.
Michael H. Posner
Doctor of Laws
You have dedicated your career to working for the rights of all. As the founding director of what is now Human Rights First, you built an organization that has led the world in providing legal representation to refugees seeking asylum. You have advocated for the rights of workers in foreign factories and called for an end to coercive interrogation by our country. You have shined a light on what is wrong in the ways we treat each other and marshaled the good will inherent in humanity to right those wrongs. We are inspired by your example and honored to name you Doctor of Law.
Anna Deavere Smith
Doctor of Fine Arts
Thirty years ago you set out, as an actor, playwright, documentarian, and teacher, to understand and reveal “the American character” through an exploration of race, class, gender, social justice, and spirituality in this country. You gave us the courage to share our individual stories with you, and then you embodied our voices, in performances that shocked our consciousness. Your work has provided insight into who we are. Your art helps us to confront reality. You hear what is often unspoken, uncover our deepest desires and fears, and inspire us to live with greater curiosity and compassion. We are pleased to bestow on you the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts.
Doctor of Music
You are the patriarch of traditional mountain and bluegrass music. From the Clinch Mountains of Southwest Virginia to the concert halls of the world, you have taken a distinctly American sound and made it your own. Your music has its roots in the gospel songs of your childhood and the banjo playing you learned from your mother. The “Stanley style” of picking produces a distinctive and characteristic rhythm, and generations of singers have been influenced by your signature voice with its mournful sound and raw, emotional power. You are a living legend, and we sing your praises as we award you this degree: Doctor of Music.
David F. Swensen
Doctor of Humane Letters
You are one of our great university citizens. A steward of gifts past and present, you have used your own gift to secure our future. Your unconventional success has allowed Yale to grow and prosper, and the Yale Model has become the gold standard for endowment portfolio management. You have trained and mentored a new generation of investment managers for institutions of higher education across the country, imbuing them with knowledge, values, and strong ethical principles. And you have regularly taught classes in Yale College and the School of Management. For your devotion and dedication, we are delighted to grant your second Yale degree: Doctor of Humane Letters.
Ahmed H. Zewail
Doctor of Science
You have pulled back the curtain on chemical reactions, using lasers to capture them in the tiniest fragment of time, a millionth of a billionth of a second, so scientists can observe what happens when atoms and molecules interact to create new compounds. By visualizing chemical reactions, you enable their control. Your discoveries are making it possible to develop better understandings and processes in such areas as ozone depletion, metal bonding, and DNA twisting. You have retained close ties to your native Egypt, working to strengthen science in that part of the world and seeking to mitigate conflict. In celebration of your many contributions, we name you Doctor of Science.
Huda Y. Zoghbi
Doctor of Medical Sciences
As a pediatric neurologist, your compassion for your patients led you to the laboratory and a career as a neuroscientist and geneticist, seeking answers to the mysteries of neurological disease. You have discovered the cause of Rett syndrome, a rare and severe form of autism, and of a disorder that results in degeneration of the cerebellum. Your work has helped explain brain development and function and offers hope of finding cures for debilitating conditions. You are a role model for conducting translational research — always looking for ways to apply science to understanding disease. You are a leader in the scientific community, and we are pleased to name you Doctor of Medical Sciences.