The University will award honorary degrees to four individuals—a Nobel prize winner, a Pulitzer prize finalist, a National Humanities Medal winner and a Royal Society fellow—at Commencement in May. 

An honorary degree is bestowed to people who "exemplify Duke’s values and inspire us to pursue excellence," according to the news release. This year's recipients are Elizabeth Alexander, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Brian Kobilka and Caroline Series.

Elizabeth Alexander

A poet and professor, Alexander was on faculty at Yale University for 15 years and served as chair of the school's African American studies department. She wrote and performed a poem at President Barack Obama's first inauguration, and she also performed poetry readings in 2009 and 2014 at Duke. 

Alexander is the president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which funds arts and culture. She has published many books, and her memoir—"The Light of the World"was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. 

Kwame Anthony Appiah

Appiah, professor of philosophy and law at New York University, taught literature and philosophy at Duke from 1990-1991. He studies a wide range of topics, including philosophy, religion, ethics and African and African American studies. He has published numerous academic works and works of fiction. 

He was previously the president of the Modern Language Association and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Obama awarded Appiah the National Humanities Medal at the White House in 2012.

Brian Kobilka

A former postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Robert Lefkowitz—James B. Duke professor of medicine—Kobilka is the Helene Irwin Fagan chair in cardiology and professor of medicine, molecular and cellular physiology and of chemical and systems biology at Stanford University. 

He made contributions in researching the structure and activity of G protein-coupled receptors, which are important to the development of pharmaceutical drugs. In 2012, he and Lefkowitz were awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work.

Caroline Series

Series, a Harvard alumna and professor emerita of mathematics at the University of Warwick in England, conducts research on hyperbolic geometry and dynamical systems. She co-wrote the geometry book "Indra's Pearls: The Vision of Felix Klein," which was published in 2002. 

As a strong supporter of women in mathematics, she was a founding member of European Women in Mathematics—a professional organization for women in the field—and currently serves as the vice-chair of the International Mathematical Union's Committee for Women in Mathematics. In 2014, the London Mathematical Society awarded Series the first-ever Senior Anne Bennett Prize. In 2016, she was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, an academy of preeminent scientists from the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.