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The Fantastic Four: Meet the honorary degree recipients you'll see at the Class of 2020 commencement ceremony

Ken Jeong at 2012 WonderCon.
Ken Jeong at 2012 WonderCon.

This weekend, Duke will bestow honorary degrees to four people during the Class of 2020 commencement festivities, including vaccine researchers, a university president and its own commencement speaker.

Ken Jeong, Mary Schmidt Campbell, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman will be recognized at Sunday’s commencement ceremony, to be held on Abele Quad at 9 a.m. Jeong and Campbell will receive Doctor of Humane Letters degrees, and Karikó and Weissman will receive Doctor of Science degrees.

Jeong, Trinity ‘90, is an actor and comedian who got his start in acting at Duke. He received his medical degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and practiced internal medicine before landing a role on “The Office,” which launched his career.

Jeong was announced as the 2020 commencement speaker in March 2020 and recorded a video for graduates in May of the same year. Most of Duke’s commencement speakers since 2011 have received honorary degrees. Jeong sat down for an interview with The Chronicle in May 2020, where he talked about his love for basketball, comedy and his advice for the Class of 2020.

Campbell was the tenth president of Spelman College, a historically Black college for women in Atlanta. She also served as dean of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, New York City’s cultural affairs commissioner and vice-chair of former president Barack Obama’s committee on the arts and humanities.

Vaccine researchers Karikó and Weissman are both on faculty at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Karikó is also senior vice president at pharmaceutical company BioNTech. Their collaborative research on modified nucleosides—which are similar to DNA molecules but lack the component that forms a chain—led to Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines.

Karikó received a doctorate in biochemistry from University of Szeged in Hungary. She co-invented 13 mRNA-related patents and has received multiple scientific awards. 

Weissman received his doctorate and medical degree from Boston University School of Medicine. Like Karikó, he has received multiple scientific awards. His research lab is currently working to develop other vaccines that work in tandem with mRNA vaccines.

Nadia Bey | Managing Editor

Nadia Bey is a Trinity junior and managing editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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