Commencement Notebook: Five awarded honorary degrees


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Graduates of the Northwestern Class of 2017 stand at commencement. Commencement took place Friday morning at Ryan Field.

Cole Paxton, Web Editor

At Northwestern’s commencement on Friday, Billie Jean King didn’t just share her wisdom with Northwestern graduates. She took something home too.

The tennis legend and equal rights advocate was one of five honorary degree recipients at commencement, earning recognition alongside professors in law, humanities and multiple scientific fields.

A Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, King won 39 total Grand Slam tennis titles and was honored in 2006 as the U.S. Tennis Association renamed its flagship venue the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“You have been a trailblazer both on and off the tennis court,” Provost Dan Linzer said in announcing King’s degree. “One of the most celebrated athletes of our time, you have also been a leading voice for gender equity and LGBTQ rights.”

Washington University School of Law Prof. Leila Sadat, an expert on international criminal law and a special adviser to the International Criminal Court prosecutor, was also honored. She was joined by history Prof. emeritus Garry Wills, a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Wills, who taught at Northwestern for 25 years, is also a winner of the National Medal for the Humanities.

“As one of the most illustrious figures in American letters today, you have brought your prodigious intellect to bear on American history, culture, politics and religion,” Linzer said of Wills. “For a quarter-century, Northwestern’s students and faculty enjoyed the privilege of your teaching and colleagueship.”

A pair of scientists rounded out the quintet of honorees: Harvard University Prof. Donald Rubin, a statistician who has earned four previous honorary degrees, and Wei Yang, a researcher and policymaker.

Schapiro commemorates departing officials

University President Morton Schapiro also honored several departing officials Friday, highlighting their accomplishments and thanking them for their commitment to the University.

Schapiro spoke fondly of Linzer, who will depart this summer after 10 years as provost and take a new position as president of the Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement. Linzer has been the University’s chief academic officer for the entirety of Schapiro’s tenure.

“Thank you, Dan, for serving by my side for the past eight years,” Schapiro said. “Your integrity, brilliance and love of Northwestern have been an inspiration to me and to so many.”

Schapiro thanked Dwight McBride, dean of The Graduate School, who will become provost at Emory University, and School of Education and Social Policy dean Penelope Peterson, who is retiring. He also paid tribute to William Osborn (Weinberg ‘69, Kellogg ‘73), the chair of the Board of Trustees, who is stepping down from that role in September.

“Bill has provided invaluable oversight and support during an exciting time in the University’s history,” Schapiro said. “Bill, you’ve been a mentor and a friend, and your alma mater and I personally will always be in your debt.”

Emeritus faculty honored

The University also commemorated 18 retiring faculty members who were awarded emeritus status, including former Medill dean Loren Ghiglione and Feinberg Prof. Paula Stern, who taught at Northwestern for 51 years.

Combined, the 18 honorees dedicated nearly 500 years of service to the University, Schapiro said.

“As scholars they have helped transformed their disciplines,” Schapiro said. “Their impact on the countless students with whom they have worked is beyond measure.”

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