Meet the 2022 commencement ceremony honorary degree recipients

Top left: Tom Catena. Top right: Akinwumi Aasedina. Bottom left: Patrick Brown. Bottom right: Sylvia Acevedo. Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Top left: Tom Catena. Top right: Akinwumi Aasedina. Bottom left: Patrick Brown. Bottom right: Sylvia Acevedo. Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Duke will present honorary degrees to four prominent individuals during the 2022 commencement ceremony on May 8, whose fields of expertise range from rocket science to agriculture.

Sylvia Acevedo, Patrick Brown,Tom Catena and Akinwumi Adesina will be recognized at Sunday’s ceremony, to be held in Wallace Wade Stadium. Acevedo, Brown and Catena will be awarded Doctor of Science degrees and Adesina will be awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Sylvia Acevedo 

A native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Acevedo is an acclaimed entrepreneur, rocket scientist and education advocate. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of Qualcomm, a semiconductor and wireless technology company. Previously, she was Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts and chair of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics in early childhood leadership. 

She received her undergraduate degree in industrial engineering from New Mexico University and continued her training in higher education to become one of the first Hispanic individuals to receive a master’s degree in industrial engineering at Stanford University. 

Acevedo also planned on earning a Doctorate in Engineering after earning her master’s degree, before she immersed herself in technology during the early days of Silicon Valley, according to Acevedo. 

Acevedo described receiving the Duke Honorary Doctorate of Science as “incredibly meaningful,” particularly “after a career of being one of the first in many ways.”

She has been recognized for many awards, including the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Businesswoman of the Year in 2004 and the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor National Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2006.

Patrick Brown

Brown is the founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Impossible Foods, which produces plant-based substitutes of meat and dairy products in hopes of curbing animal agriculture’s harmful environmental impacts. He is also co-founder of Lyrical Foods, a producer of plant-based cheeses, yogurts and dips. 

Prior to founding Impossible Foods, Brown received his Bachelor of Arts, medical degree and doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Chicago. He then served as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of biochemistry at Stanford University. While at Stanford, he led a research team to develop DNA microarrays and additional methods for visualizing, interpreting and analyzing global gene expression programs. Brown also pioneered the use of gene expression patterns to classify cancers and their course predictions. 

Brown has been actively involved in increasing public access to scientific and medical research. In 2000, he co-founded the Public Library of Science, a non-profit scientific publisher which provides open access to scientific literature and results. 

Brown has been recognized as a member of the National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine and a recipient of the American Cancer Society Medal of Honor. 

Tom Catena

Catena, Medical School ‘92, is a distinguished surgeon, veteran, Catholic missionary and humanitarian. He serves as the medical director of the Mother of Mercy Hospital in the war-torn region of Sudan’s Nuba Mountains. As the only surgeon in the region, Catena provides crucial healthcare to over 1 million people despite increased risks of embargo on humanitarian supplies, withdrawal of other non-governmental organizations and air raid attacks. He also serves as the inaugural chair of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative. 

Catena received his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Brown University, where he played football and was named an All-American nose guard. Catena then attended the Duke School of Medicine on a U.S. Navy scholarship and served as a flight surgeon for the U.S. Navy for four years. 

Catena’s work has been recognized by U.S. universities and international organizations alike. He has received honorary doctorates from Brown University and Yerevan State Medical University and was named as one of the 100 most influential people by TIME Magazine in 2015. In 2017, Catena received the Aurora Prize of Awakening Humanity, and in 2019, he received the Gerson L’Chaim Prize for Outstanding Christian Medical Mission Service. 

Akinwumi Adesina 

Adesina is a global leader in agriculture, development finance and food security. He serves as president of the African Development Bank Group and previously served as Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. His extensive career also includes his work as the associate director of Food Security at the Rockefeller Foundation, principal economist for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and president of the African Association of Agricultural Economists. 

Adesina received his undergraduate degree in agricultural economics from the University of Ife in Nigeria and a master’s and doctorate in agricultural economics from Purdue University. 

His work in implementing bold policy reforms and new agricultural investment programs has expanded opportunities for the private sector. It has also guided agriculture into becoming a business rather than a development program. 

In 2017, Adesina received the World Food Prize and the Gene White Lifetime Achievement Award for Child Nutrition. In 2019, he was honored with the Sunhak Peace Prize for his work in agricultural innovation to promote food security in Africa. More recently, Adesina was conferred an honorary doctorate degree by the Federal University of Technology Minna in Nigeria. 

Brown, Catena and Adesina did not respond to requests for comment.

Preetha Ramachandran profile
Preetha Ramachandran | Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator

Preetha Ramachandran is a Trinity senior and diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator for The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously senior editor for Volume 117.

Amy Guan | Senior Editor

Amy Guan is a Pratt senior and a senior editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


Share and discuss “Meet the 2022 commencement ceremony honorary degree recipients” on social media.