Duke to grant five honorary degrees at commencement

President Richard Brodhead announced Monday the five innovators in various fields who will receive honorary degrees at May 16 commencement exercises.

The recipients are professor and autism expert Temple Grandin, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education Joel Klein, professor and philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, English theoretical physicist Sir John Pendry and founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

Yunus, a banker and economist, is the commencement keynote speaker.

“They are people of the highest accomplishments in all different forms of human endeavor,” Brodhead said. “Our students can graduate to put before them a mirror where they can see the people who went on to do great things with their education.”

In 2006, Yunus and the Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below,” according to the Nobel Prize Web site.

Grandin is a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University and a bestselling author. She has conducted research in animal cognition and autism and is an advocate for the idea that autism can be controlled.

Klein is the chancellor of the nation’s largest public school district and has been a leader in reforming public education.

His approach, named Children First, focuses on developing public school leadership, providing teacher quality incentives and holding schools responsible for improvements.

MacIntyre, a philosopher and a professor, has made contributions to moral and political philosophy and in the history of philosophy and theology. He has authored several books, such as “Dependent Rational Animals,” and has taught in various institutions, including Duke, Oxford University and Yale University.

Pendry has made several scientific discoveries in the field of metamaterials—which he founded—and worked with other Duke scientists to create an invisibility cloak, which can hide objects from electromagnetic fields.

The Committee on Honorary Degrees, which is composed of the Board of Trustees and faculty members, nominates the recipients in an ongoing discussion throughout the year, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations.

Last year, seven figures received honorary degrees, including television personality and media mogul Oprah Winfrey, the keynote speaker at the 2009 commencement ceremony.

“Honorary degree is a long-standing tradition, and it is a very important part of the commencement in part because the recipients represent the goals and aspirations of the University,” Schoenfeld said.

Brodhead said the awarding of honorary degrees is meant to motivate the graduates.

“Commencement is most fundamentally about the accomplishments of our own students,” he said. “Students can be quite surprised by how inspiring it is to see someone put before them who has accomplished what such people have done.”


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