Seven notables to get honorary Duke degrees

Seven leaders across various fields will be recognized with honorary degrees at Duke's commencement ceremony May 10, President Richard Brodhead announced Wednesday.

Those who will don caps and gowns with members of the Class of 2009 include: Harvard University economist Susan Athey, Trinity '91; Nobel Prize-winning geneticists Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein; James Moeser, former chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Nobel Prize-winning chemist Mario Molina; Indra Nooyi, chair and chief executive officer of PepsiCo; pianist Murray Perahia and media mogul and commencement speaker Oprah Winfrey.

"Each of these men and women represent the best and brightest in their respective fields, and it is our honor at Duke to recognize them for their enormous contributions to society," Brodhead said in a University statement.

Nominations for honorary degrees are discussed for more than a year by the Committee on Honorary Degrees, composed of Trustees and faculty members, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations. Standout candidates are then approved by the Academic Council and the Board of Trustees.

"In awarding honorary degrees, the University recognizes individuals whose work really meets the ideals of the University in education, scholarship [and] citizenship," Schoenfeld said. "Commencement is such a special day for any university, and this just adds to it."

In a first for Duke, Brown and Goldstein will share a joint degree, which "reflects the reality that our graduates will be functioning in a world where collaboration is increasingly required to achieve excellence," Brodhead said.

Brown and Goldstein have investigated the workings of cholesterol metabolism in tandem for 37 years, Brown said. The pair's work has led to the creation of statin medications that lower blood cholesterol and ward off heart attacks administered to more than 20 million patients around the world for daily intake.

Although he has been honored with seven honorary degrees from institutions spanning the globe, Brown said the Duke diploma will occupy a special place in his office.

"I was delighted, particularly because I have two sons-in-law and both of them are Duke alumni, so now I'll be a Duke alumnus along with them-that will be a great pleasure for our family," Brown said. "I have been a fan of the University for a long time."

The diploma Athey will accept in Wallace Wade will mark her first honorary degree, but not her first from Duke. The award-winning economist became a Duke student at just 16 and graduated with majors in economics, mathematics and computer science after four years. Athey attributes much of her professional success to her time at the University, recalling the support she received from an economics professor and her sorority sister Leslie Marx, Trinity '89 and now a professor in game theory and managerial economics at the Fuqua School of Business.

"I absolutely loved Duke, and it was the unique environment of Duke that led me to a research career. I hadn't planned to go into research but I was singled out by a faculty member and given a lot of attention and advising that really shaped my career decision," Athey said. "It's a great feeling-certainly not something I would have imagined would ever happen when I started at Duke as a freshman."


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