Honorary degrees awarded to nine outstanding individuals

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President Peter Salovey (seated, center) is shown with this year's honorary degree recipients: (seated, from left) Rosalie Silberman Abella, Audra McDonald, President Peter Salovey, Haruki Murakami, Alice Waters, (standing, from left) David Saperstein, Arnold Rampersad, Calvin Hill, Jennifer Doudna, and George C. Wolfe. (Photo by Joy Bush)

At its 315th Commencement, Yale awarded honorary degrees to nine individuals who have achieved distinction in their respective fields. Their citations follow:

Read the biographies of the 2016 honorees.

Rosalie Silberman Abella

Doctor of Laws

You defend human rights and justice in your home nation of Canada and around the globe. As one of the world’s finest living judges, you approach your work with zest, empathy, and superb intelligence. The child of Holocaust survivors, born in Europe in a camp for displaced persons, you know first-hand the terrors of oppression and inhumanity. Your pioneering judgments have extended the protection of law to all. You are a champion of the vulnerable and an inspiration to everyone. You know that indifference is injustice’s incubator. We are proud of your service to Yale, and honored to name you Doctor of Laws.

Jennifer Doudna

Doctor of Science

Your breakthrough work is revolutionizing the biomedical sciences. Starting with research on ribonucleic acid, you created a deeper understanding of the building blocks of life, revealing the three-dimensional structure of ribozyme scaffolds. Working on the machinery that bacteria use to fight viruses, you and your colleagues have discovered how to edit genomes with surgical precision, creating powerful new tools and opening possibilities for repairing genes to treat cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia, and other genetic diseases. We are delighted to welcome you back to Yale, and to bestow on you the degree of Doctor of Science.

Calvin Hill

Doctor of Humane Letters

You are a Yale legend. Your dazzling running led Yale football to two Ivy League championships, and with speed, agility, strength, and an intuitive sense of the game, you went on to twelve NFL seasons, a victory in Super Bowl VI, and two NFC titles. On the field and off, leadership, character, and service have been the hallmarks of your life. A first-round draft pick in 1969—the first from the Ivy League—and the first running back in franchise history to surpass the 1000-yard mark, you are also first-round for us, as an athlete and humanitarian, and we are delighted to award you your second Yale degree: Doctor of Humane Letters.

Audra McDonald

Doctor of Music

You are the most honored performer in the history of the Tony Awards, winning six of them to go along with your two Grammys and an Emmy. Transforming yourself to play memorable characters, you are equally at home—and revelatory—in worlds imagined by great dramatists from Rodgers & Hammerstein and William Shakespeare to Lorraine Hansberry and Suzan-Lori Parks. Whether on stage or in concert, television, and film, you marry effortless craft with soulful and surprising interpretation. To the wider world, you have raised your voice as an advocate for the LGBTQ community. For your extraordinarily expressive talent and generous humanism, we are honored to award you this degree of Doctor of Music.

Haruki Murakami

Doctor of Letters

Born in Japan but fascinated and influenced by Western culture, you have developed a style of writing all your own that captures the attention, stretches the imagination, and captivates readers around the world. Your novel Norwegian Wood, selling more than 11 million volumes in Japan alone, secured your place as a global author, and you have become the most widely-read Japanese novelist of your generation. In your books, you create surreal universes of fantasy, dream, science fiction, and allegory, giving voice to the alienation and absurdity of postmodern existence. We salute your accomplishments with this degree of Doctor of Letters.

Arnold Rampersad

Doctor of Humanities

Your work and your life are characterized by scholarship, integrity, and principle. You chronicle the lives and legacies of African-Americans in a way that identifies, informs, and inspires. In telling the stories of W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Arthur Ashe, Jackie Robinson, and Ralph Ellison, you also tell the American story. For writing that reveals the invisible, sets a high standard, and makes a distinctive contribution to our national culture, we are proud to award you this degree of Doctor of Humanities.

David Saperstein

Doctor of Divinity

The whole of your life’s work has been to make life whole for those on society’s margins. Your faith has led you to insist on social justice and civil rights for all, and you have labored tirelessly on behalf of the poor and oppressed. As ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, you have promoted a vision of faith as a unifying force, empowering us to see the common good that we can do together. You are a rabbi for all of us, teaching us the ways of peace. With gratitude for your service, we name you Doctor of Divinity.

Alice Waters

Doctor of Humane Letters

You have helped us understand that the importance of food extends beyond the dinner table to environmental stewardship, health, ethics, and education. The Yale Sustainable Food Program was your brainchild, allowing us to enjoy the fruits—and vegetables!—of our labors on campus. Your Edible Schoolyard Project is transforming the way children eat, as well as reforming the systems that produce their food. You are a chef, an educator, an artist, and an entrepreneur. And for your advocacy and attention to good taste, we bestow on you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

George C. Wolfe

Doctor of Fine Arts

As artistic director of the New York Shakespeare Festival and chief creative officer of The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, you bring to light stories of what it is to be American—our struggles, our triumphs, our history. As a playwright and director, you command the stage with kinetic showmanship and intellectual sophistication. Whether you are confronting the plague that gave rise to Angels in America and The Normal Heart, or the cultural politics of Jelly’s Last Jam and Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk, your joyful sensibility has entranced audiences and inspired generations of theater makers. We are honored to name you Doctor of Fine Arts.

See more Commencement 2016 stories, photos, videos, and more.

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