Duke will present honorary degrees to four individuals during the Class of 2023’s commencement ceremony, whose lines of work span from environmental research to musical performance.
Branford Marsalis, Deborah Rutter, Susan Solomon and Darren Walker will be recognized at the May 14 commencement ceremony held in Wallace Wade Stadium. Marsalis and Rutter will be awarded Doctor of Arts degrees, Solomon will be awarded a Doctor of Science degree and Walker will be awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters.
Raised in New Orleans, Marsalis is a prominent jazz saxophonist, instrumentalist, composer, bandleader and educator. Prior to his career in the arts, Marsalis attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., then transferred to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
In 1986, Marsalis founded the Branford Marsalis Quartet and has played in jazz ensembles, bands, classical groups and on Broadway. He has played with the New York Philharmonic, led the Tonight Show Band from 1992 to 1995 and composed original scores for films such as “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
Marsalis has lived in Durham for the last 20 years and taught at North Carolina Central University. He has also built a lasting partnership with Duke Performances.
Marsalis has received three Grammys, a citation by the National Endowment for the Arts as a Jazz Master and an avatar of contemporary artistic excellence. His musical compositions for Broadway have garnered nominations for the Drama Desk and Tony Awards.
“I am thrilled and incredibly honored to receive a degree from Duke University, and it’s only made more special that my daughter will be studying at Duke next fall,” Marsalis wrote in an email to The Chronicle.
Rutter is the current president, artistic and administrative director of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., an artistic hub which connects artists to millions of people each year. At the Kennedy Center, Rutter established the Citizen Artist Fellowship to support emerging artists whose focus area lies in community activism and led the push for more artist-led programming and cross-disciplinary collaboration.
She is also a board member of Vital Voices and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2022, she was awarded the European Union’s Transatlantic Bridge Award in recognition of her advocacy for the role arts play in democracy.
Prior to her tenure at the Kennedy Center, Rutter received her undergraduate degree at Stanford University and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Southern California. After graduation, she was appointed as head of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and later the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
“It’s become my mission to ensure that as many people as possible can have the fortune I did, finding purpose, joy, and connection through art no matter their stage in life,” Rutter wrote in a message to The Chronicle. “I am so honored to now not only be the parent of a Duke student, but join the Blue Devils family myself with this honorary degree.”
Solomon, the Lee and Geraldine Martin professor of environmental studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is known for her critical work in research on the destruction of the ozone layer. She also serves on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board.
Solomon received her undergraduate degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology and her doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. After graduation, she joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo., where she served as a research chemist for nine years.
In 1986 and 1987, Solomon led expeditions to Antarctica, where her team discovered unusually high levels of chlorine dioxide, the first evidence to point to chlorofluorocarbons as the primary agent of the ozone hole. In 2007, Solomon was a part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change within the United Nations, which won a Nobel Peace Prize.
Solomon’s groundbreaking research won her the National Medal of Science in 1999, the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 and TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2008. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the French Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of the United Kingdom. Antarctica’s Solomon Glacier and Solomon Saddle are named in her honor.
Walker currently serves as the president of the Ford Foundation, a $16 billion private human welfare foundation. He is known for chairing the committee that ended Detroit’s historic bankruptcy, implementing a $1 billion social bond for COVID-19 stabilization and spearheading the Rebuild New Orleans initiative in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Walker earned both his bachelors and law degrees from The University of Texas at Austin. He previously served as the vice president at the Rockefeller Foundation. In the 1990s, he worked for the Abyssinian Development Corporation, where he led a revitalization strategy that built over 1,000 units of affordable housing.
He is the co-founder of the US Impact Investing Alliance and the President’s Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy. Walker chairs the New York City’s Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art and is a board member of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the National Gallery of Art, the High Line Carnegie Hall, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Walker’s was awarded the 2022 commander of France’s Order of Arts and Letters, and a personal appointment from Queen Elizabeth II to the Order of the British Empire. He was listed in TIME’s annual 100 Most Influential People in the World and Ebony’s Power 100 and was named the Wall Street Journal’s 2020 Philanthropy Innovator.
Solomon and Walker did not respond to requests for comments.
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Ishani Raha is a Pratt junior and a senior editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Andrew Bae is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.