Yale awards 10 honorary degrees at 2013 Commencement

Ten individuals, including three Yale alumni, were honored for their outstanding contributions to their fields by the University, which awarded them honorary degrees on May 20 during the Commencement ceremony on Old Campus. A 10th surprise degree was also awarded to President Richard C. Levin ’74 Ph.D.

Ten individuals, including three Yale alumni, were honored for their outstanding contributions to their fields by the University, which awarded them honorary degrees on May 20 during the Commencement ceremony on Old Campus. Their citations follow:

John Adams

American composer and conductor

Doctor of Music

You have pushed the boundaries of music, layering sound upon sound, playing with silence and speech and song, extending minimalism. Creating symphonies, choral works, concerti, and historical operas, your compositions have comforted and confronted, amused and amazed, challenged and transformed. Your poignant work, On the Transmigration of Souls, gave voice to our collective grief following 9/11. You are a gifted author as well, and we say “Hallelujah” at this junction as Yale names you Doctor of Music.

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Vinton Cerf

Vice president and “chief Internet evangelist,” Google Inc.

Doctor of Engineering and Technology

You are hailed as one of the “fathers of the Internet,” which has transformed how we work, communicate, find information, pursue research, and shop. Along with your lifetime collaborator, Robert Kahn, you created the protocols that allow information to flow through a global network of computers. Ever the visionary, as the Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, you continue to imagine the impact of technology on our society, through applications focused on artificial intelligence, communication, the environment, and, lately, interplanetary travel. We are pleased that as a native of New Haven, you have returned to your childhood home to receive the degree of Doctor of Engineering and Technology.

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Elizabeth Clark

Professor of religion and of history, Duke University

Doctor of Divinity

You have transformed patristics, the study of the fathers of the Christian Church, by demonstrating the role of women and showing that the early church fathers were not alone in shaping Christianity. Drawing upon feminist history, social network theory, and literary criticism, you have expanded our understanding of the origins and development of Christianity, and changed the way we view ancient customs and our own more recent past. Your colleagues salute you for your scholarship, your students praise you as a mentor, and we are pleased to recognize your contributions with the degree of Doctor of Divinity.

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Edwidge Danticat

Author and activist for social justice in Haiti

Doctor of Letters

Your writing bears witness to your beloved Haiti.  You produce truth-telling narratives that create awareness of broken society and offer hope for healing. You are a writer with an abundance of gifts, and you share those gifts through an abundance of genres:  novel, short story, memoir, young adult literature. As an immigrant yourself, you are a forceful campaigner for immigration reform and an advocate for issues that affect your Haitian homeland. For your elegant prose with its powerful simplicity, and for the inspiration of your strong sense of social responsibility, we name you Doctor of Letters. 

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Natalie Zemon Davis

Henry Charles Lea Professor emeritus of history, Princeton University;
adjunct professor of history and medieval studies, University of Toronto

Doctor of Humanities

An innovative historian, you are a fearless scholar, a talented teacher, and an outstanding mentor. You have changed the way we see the past by focusing on the material conditions and mental outlook of ordinary people. Their lives — quirky, unpredictable, and hard — have meaning that speaks to us in your interpretations across the centuries. Drawing on anthropology, ethnography, and literary theory, and using nontraditional source material such as judicial records, tax rolls, plays, and pamphlets, you have been able to recapture the vitality of life in another time, helping us better understand ourselves. For scholarship that illuminates our human condition, we are proud to award you this degree of Doctor of Humanities.

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Esther Duflo

Founder and director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab;
Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Doctor of Social Sciences

You magnify the good we can do in the world by showing us which actions are most effective in alleviating poverty and its attendant suffering. As an economist, you have harnessed the power of research, using rigorous randomized trials to analyze the effects of social policy. Studying household behavior, education, access to healthcare, and micro-lending, you shed light on some of the most pressing problems facing the poor. For transforming the field of development economics and enhancing its capacity to serve human needs, we are honored to name you Doctor of Social Science.

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William Kentridge


Doctor of Fine Arts

As a visual artist, you animate still images through a painstaking process of drawing, photographing, erasing and redrawing, all on the same page; in the process, you animate our understanding of the world you are depicting. Against a backdrop where apartheid once ruled, your art shows the still-jagged edges of a society not yet healed, rendered in black and white. You excel in multiple media — opera, drawing, animation, and film — and your work displays deep concern for the human condition. For helping us see in new ways, we name you Doctor of Fine Arts.

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Richard C. Levin ’74 Ph.D.

President of Yale University

Special Award: Doctor of Humane Letters

You stand among the great presidents in Yale’s history. After twenty years of extraordinary service as President of this University, you leave Yale strengthened in every important dimension. You have helped to make our remarkable faculty stronger, and you have supported ambitious extensions of research and practice, all the while insisting that teaching remain at the heart of this institution. More Yale students now come from all walks of life and from around the world because of your commitment to increasing access to Yale. You have advanced Yale as a great global university with your emphasis on internationalization, even as you have been a dynamic partner in New Haven’s urban renaissance. Under your leadership, Yale’s beautiful campus has been restored and dramatically expanded; its carbon footprint made smaller; and its architectural distinction widely celebrated. Since you first arrived in New Haven in 1970 as a graduate student, you have embodied the ethos of Yale: commitment to excellence, to truth, and to service. As our President, you have led Yale with those same values, and with a decisiveness to act with wisdom and courage. All who love this University take joy and confidence in knowing that the legacy of your service will benefit Yale forever. We express today our deep gratitude by conferring upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters

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Frederick Smith ’66 B.A.

Founder and CEO of FedEx

Doctor of Humane Letters

You conceived of the idea that became Federal Express while writing a term paper for a Yale College economics course.  Your idea shrank the planet. By envisioning a new way to move packages, and providing highly reliable and efficient customer service, you created a new industry and built a company that now delivers around the globe. Your care for your employees has made FedEx one of the nation’s best places to work, and your humanitarian instincts have led you to mobilize FedEx resources to deliver aid in times of natural disaster. We are delighted to recognize your inspired creativity and leadership with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

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Sonia Sotomayor ’79 J.D.

U.S. Supreme Court justice

Doctor of Laws

From the Bronx to the bench of our nation’s highest court, by way of Yale Law School, your path has been marked by energy, intelligence, and perseverance. Grounded in your experience as a prosecutor, federal trial judge and appeals court judge, your wisdom now informs constitutional questions of the highest importance. Your jurisprudence is impartial and yet situated, objective and yet involved, tough and yet caring. Your alma mater takes pride in your inspiring journey and your uncompromising commitment to equality and justice.  We are honored to award you the degree of Doctor of Laws.

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