Yale Confers Eight Honorary Doctorates at Commencement 2006

Yale University President Richard C. Levin conferred honorary degrees at its 305th Commencement ceremony on May 22 to eight extraordinary individuals.

They were Nancy Sabin Wexler, professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University and president of the Hereditary Disease Foundation; Peter Brown, professor of history at Princeton; Zaha Hadid, architect; John Pepper Jr., businessman and civic leader; Moshe Idel, professor of Jewish thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Peter Raven, professor of botany at Washington University and director of the Missouri Botanical Garden; Edward Albee, playwright; and Sandra Day O’Connor, U.S. Supreme Court justice.

The citations follow:

Nancy Sabin Wexler
Your efforts unlocked the mystery of the tragic disorder known as Huntington’s disease.
Motivated by your personal family history, you collected the data that enabled subsequent research to identify the gene that causes the disease. Along the way, the results of your research boosted confidence in the promise of the Human Genome Project. Throughout, you demonstrated care and compassion for those whom you have studied. With sensitivity and thoughtfulness, you helped shape policy and procedures concerning genetic testing and the related ethical issues. We salute you for your pioneering work and join you in hoping that it may someday lead to a cure. We are proud to name you Doctor of Medical Sciences.

Peter Brown
With scholarship of breathtaking range and deep insight, you rediscovered “late antiquity,” with its dramatic transformation of Judaism, the rise of Christianity, the emergence of Islam, and the creation of the Roman law. Drawing on theology, social psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and history, you taught us how we continue to be shaped by these ancient times. Your magnificent work, Augustine of Hippo, stands as a seminal biography. Your mastery of 25 languages and your gifts as a teacher, mentor, and writer epitomize the nobility of scholarship in the modern world. For your contributions to the life of the mind, we award you the degree of Doctor of Humanities.

Zaha Hadid
Your innovative work transcends convention by drawing the qualities of a particular site into the building itself. Your approach emphasizes structure and frame through a reinvention of architectural geometry. You challenge traditional notions of form and style. Your buildings curve and soar. They become constructed comments on their environment. You are an accomplished designer and teacher, and, as the first woman to win your field’s highest honor, the Pritzker Prize, you are an inspiration. We are pleased to recognize the art of your architecture by granting the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts.

John E. Pepper, Jr., ’60 BA
You are the quintessential servant leader. For 39 years at Procter & Gamble, you proved that companies can do well by doing good. Honestly and earnestly, you created a culture that respected all and required their best. As Senior Fellow of the Corporation and Vice President for Finance and Administration, you brought these values to Yale and inspired all who work here. An exemplary citizen, you have led the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the Cincinnati Youth Initiative, and helped many other civic organizations. In every job and every voluntary role you have assumed, you have taught your colleagues what really matters. We, who value so highly your devoted service, with pride, gratitude, and delight award you yet another Yale degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.

Moshe Idel
You have radically changed the long-dominant vision of Jewish mysticism. You have pioneered by suggesting that Gnosticism is a belated version of earlier Jewish speculations, and you have intimated that we may yet discover an archaic Jewish religion that predates almost all of our written sources. We are honored to recognize your scholarly contributions in the field of Judaic studies and your wisdom that provides insight into the religious impulses of humanity at large by bestowing on you the degree of Doctor of Divinity.

Peter H. Raven
Your career has focused on studying and preserving biodiversity, protecting the environment, and understanding the interrelatedness and co-evolution of plants, animals and insects. You have transformed the oldest public garden in the United States, the Missouri Botanical Garden, into the world’s leading research center for the study of tropical rain forests. Your own research and service spans the globe, as you work tirelessly to promote science, save the rapidly disappearing forests of the tropics and their endowments of species, and call attention to the unprecedented risks of climate change. You are a prolific writer, a gifted teacher, and a visionary leader. For all these accomplishments, we are pleased to confer this degree of Doctor of Science.

Edward Albee
You have captured the complexity of modern life and given it voice in unforgettable characters. Your works explore the dark side of our existence, probe our modern disillusionment, and attack the false values that have corroded society. You have written plays that puzzle and provoke us. With generous spirit, you have shared your knowledge with countless aspiring playwrights — teaching, coaching, and mentoring. You bring honor to Yale by accepting this degree of Doctor of Letters.

Sandra Day O’Connor
From your childhood on a western ranch to your leading role on the nation’s highest court, you have demonstrated self-reliance, independence, intelligence, and wisdom. Undaunted by the lack of opportunity for women lawyers, you made your own way in legal practice, politics, and public service. As the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States, you worked tirelessly to find the moderate, middle ground. Your judicial pragmatism has helped to keep the law a living thing, evolving and changing as the world changes, serving society well. You are a judge of the people and for the people. We are pleased to recognize your influence on the law and your contribution to society with this degree of Doctor of Laws.

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325