Yale awards honorary degrees to nine who embody excellence

During its 322nd graduation ceremony today, Yale conferred honorary degrees on nine remarkable individuals who have achieved distinction in their fields.
Yale 2023 honorary degree recipients with President Peter Salovey.

Seated in front row, from left, Robert Caro, France Córdova, Yale President Peter Salovey, Deborah Willis, and Guido Calabresi. Standing in second row, from left, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Andrés Duany, Lonnie G. Bunch III, Max Dale Cooper, and Paul Giamatti. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

During its 322nd graduation ceremony today, Yale conferred honorary degrees on nine remarkable individuals who have achieved distinction in their fields.

The nine individuals we honor this morning serve as examples to you, our graduates, to encourage you to aspire to excellence, to value those elements of human character that they embody: creativity, curiosity, discipline, integrity, and a passion for public service,” said Yale President Peter Salovey during the university-wide Commencement ceremony.

The honorary degree recipients and their citations follow:

Lonnie G. Bunch III
Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.)
Museum administrator and educator

Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, renowned historian, and bold educator, you were the visionary force in establishing the National Museum of African American History and Culture, whose holdings remind us that a people’s journey is a nation’s story. Your accomplishments as curator and leader are matched only by your passion for preserving the stories that need to be told, heard, and remembered. Guardian of our national treasures, we Lift Every Voice as we declare you, yourself, a national treasure, and proudly confer on you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.”

Guido Calabresi ’53 B.A., ’58 LL.B.
Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)
Judge and legal scholar

Groundbreaking scholar, eminent jurist, fabled teacher, and beloved dean, your students have gone on to shape a nation. No last name needs to be appended to your first when it is used in legal circles across the globe: the name ‘Guido’ says it all. The field of law owes much to you; son of Italy, your second country, America, owes much to you. And no entity owes more to you than your university, which takes pride in exclaiming ‘Complimenti!’ as it honors you with your third Yale degree.”

Robert Caro
Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)

Brilliant chronicler of Robert Moses and President Lyndon Johnson, you have immersed yourself in historical research, pursuing every lead and exploring every line of every source, to illuminate two of the most complicated and multifaceted personalities of our age. With integrity and perseverance, you have devoted your life’s work to reveal the mechanisms of power through an intimate understanding of those who wield it. For illuminating the way in which galvanizing figures have shaped our society, we are honored to welcome you into the Yale family with the doctor of letters degree.”

Max Dale Cooper
Doctor of Medical Sciences (D.M.S.)

Pathbreaking scientist, born and raised in rural Mississippi, you began your education on a football scholarship in a community college and have risen to make transformative discoveries to human knowledge. Your revelation of the unique functions of T cells and B cells, and of a separately evolved immune system in primitive vertebrates, laid the foundation for advances in modern medicine that have saved and improved countless lives. Changemaker for human health and longevity, we join a grateful chorus as we grant you the Yale degree of Doctor of Medical Sciences.”

France Córdova
Doctor of Science (Sc.D.)
Science administrator

Prominent astrophysicist and transformative administrator, again and again, you have fostered collaboration and innovation as the director of the National Science Foundation, NASA’s chief scientist, president of Purdue University, and in other leadership roles. Your consummate abilities as galvanizer and champion of scientific progress have expanded the frontiers of possibility and enabled breakthroughs that enrich our lives. Stellar scientist and administrator, the earth and heavens rejoice as we recognize you with this Doctor of Science degree.”

Andrés Duany ’74 M.ARCH. and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk ’74 M.ARCH.
Doctor of Fine Arts (D.F.A.)

From the corridors of this campus to the sidewalks of Seaside and beyond, yours is an architectural partnership of enduring impact. Together you saw the potential for building pedestrian-friendly environments and communities that foster connection — and your masterful designs have brought that vision to fruition and revolutionized practices worldwide. Transformers of town planning, for renewing our concept of the urban environment, and for advocating ‘smart growth’ and walkable cities over unsustainable sprawl, we proudly present you both with your second Yale degrees, Doctor of Fine Arts.”

Paul Giamatti ’89 B.A, ’94 M.F.A.
Doctor of Fine Arts (D.F.A.)

Whether on stage at the Yale Rep or on screens around the world, your gift as an actor confers lux and lends veritas to every role you inhabit. You have brought to life a curmudgeonly connoisseur, a modern-day prince of Denmark, an eccentric writer, and a founding father. Son of a Yale president whose name reverberates in our halls, gifted artist whose work is watched by ‘Billions,’ we don’t speak ‘Sideways,’ but with directness, when we say we take pride and pleasure in honoring you with your third Yale degree, Doctor of Fine Arts.”

Deborah Willis
Doctor of Humanities (D.Hum.)
Artist and author

Photographer and sublime visual artist, with a keen eye and a deep sense of context, you have given us a legacy of images that explore, document, and celebrate the African American experience. With indomitable will, you have labored to preserve the memorable work of artists which otherwise might have been lost to history. For ‘reframing’ our perceptual understanding and helping us to ‘see’ better that visual culture can play a part in social change, Yale is privileged to confer on you the degree of Doctor of Humanities.”

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Part of the In Focus Collection: Yale Commencement 2023

Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-980-2222