Princeton awards six honorary degrees

Princeton University awarded honorary degrees during Commencement exercises June 6 to six distinguished individuals for their contributions to science, health care, athletics, literature, education and civil rights.

Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman awarded degrees to John Bonner, Princeton's George Moffett Professor of Biology Emeritus; Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist, physician and founding director of the international organization Partners In Health; Mia Hamm, U.S. women's soccer legend; Seamus Heaney, Nobel laureate poet, translator and essayist; Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County; and Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America.

Honorary degree recipients are elected by Princeton's Board of Trustees. A trustee committee, which includes faculty and students, solicits nominations from the entire University.

The following is biographical information on the recipients and the official citations.

John Bonner, Doctor of Science

John Bonner, the George Moffett Professor of Biology Emeritus, joined the Princeton faculty in 1947. Primarily interested in evolution and development, Bonner for half a century has used the cellular slime mold Dictyostelium as a tool to seek an understanding of those twin disciplines. His investigations of the development of organisms have broadened scientists' understanding of the problems of growth and cell differentiation.

Bonner served as chair of Princeton's Department of Biology before his retirement in 1990, fostering the work of the group of scientists that later became the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. He has written more than 150 scholarly journal articles and numerous books, including "The Evolution of Culture in Animals," "The Evolution of Complexity by Means of Natural Selection" and "Lives of a Biologist: Adventures in a Century of Extraordinary Science." His latest monograph, "Why Size Matters: From Bacteria to Blue Whales," has just been published. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Bonner is the recipient of a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship, a Rockefeller Traveling Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

An unabashed champion of Darwin, he continues a highly productive lifetime of scholarship in a sustained attempt to explain nature to himself and others. At Princeton for almost six decades, he has been a generous colleague, a gentle but effective administrator, an inspiring teacher, a determined antireductionist and a teller of tales whose gracefully written and highly accessible essays have successfully focused our attention on the "big" questions of science, including why size matters. A devotee of the slime mold Dictyostelium, he has used this simple organism to explore the complex mysteries of life, raising our understanding of central issues of biology to a higher level.

Paul Farmer, Doctor of Laws

Medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer is a founding director of Partners In Health, an international organization that provides direct health care services and undertakes research and advocacy activities on behalf of those who are sick and living in poverty. Focusing primarily on diseases that disproportionately afflict the poor, Farmer has worked with colleagues around the world in pioneering novel, community-based treatment strategies for AIDS and tuberculosis.

Farmer is the Presley Professor of Medical Anthropology in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard University Medical School. In addition, he is an attending physician in infectious diseases and chief of the Division of Social Medicine and Health Inequalities at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and medical director of a charity hospital, the Clinique Bon Sauveur, in rural Haiti. Farmer is the author of "Pathologies of Power" and "Infections and Inequalities," and he is the subject of Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Kidder's "Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World." His awards and honors include the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association, the American Medical Association's Outstanding International Physician (Nathan Davis) Award and the Heinz Humanitarian Award.

In the service of all nations, from rural Haiti to war-torn Rwanda to inner-city Boston, this anthropologist-physician has devoted his significant talents to saving lives. He would give those who have next to nothing the inestimable gift of health, and he would challenge all of us to make that gift a basic human right. Epidemics of tuberculosis and AIDS teach us that global public health depends on community efforts that cross geo-political borders. His prescription for social justice includes attention to the social forces, from poverty and racism to war, that weaken our immune systems; his crusade aims to secure better health not only for the body, but for the body politic.

Mia Hamm, Doctor of Humanities

Mariel Margaret (Mia) Hamm, an American soccer legend, is considered one of the best women ever to have played the world's most popular sport and is widely credited with attracting millions of women and girls to the sport as players, spectators and professional athletes. At age 15, she began a 17-year career when she was selected as the youngest woman ever to play with the U.S. national team. In college, she led the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to four NCAA women's championships. In 1991, she was the youngest player on the first U.S. team to win the women's World Cup. When the U.S. squad won the World Cup again in 1999, more than 90,000 spectators attended the final match, making it the most-attended women’s sports event ever.

In 1996 and 2004, Hamm led the U.S. teams that won Olympic gold medals and twice, in 2001 and 2002, she was named the world player of the year. She was Soccer USA's female athlete of the year five times and won numerous most valuable player and other awards. As the best-known female athlete in the United States with a reputation for sportsmanship, determination and high aspirations, she tirelessly promoted women's athletics, the sport of soccer and greater opportunities for participation. She retired in 2004 with 158 international goals, more than 50 ahead of any other player, male or female. In 1999, she created the Mia Hamm Foundation to raise funds and awareness for bone marrow disease research and transplant patients, and to encourage and support the further development of opportunities for young women to participate in sports.

For men and women around the world, but especially for girls in this country, she has personified the achievement of excellence, the expansion of opportunity and the determination needed to overcome defenders of opponents' nets and limitations on the participation of women in sports. Because of her, many have dreamed what they otherwise would not have dared to dream, and have set out to realize their dreams by following her model of courage, integrity, discipline, good sportsmanship and effective teamwork. Her own playing days securely lodged in the record books, she now aims for goals that can bring health, hope and new opportunities to others.

Seamus Heaney, Doctor of Letters

Poet, translator and essayist Seamus Heaney was awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize for literature "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past." As part of what became known as the "Northern School" of Irish poetry in the 1960s, he published his first book of poetry, "Death of a Naturalist," 40 years ago. Since then, he has written award-winning collections of poetry and essays, and translated works that range from the Anglo-Saxon poem "Beowulf" to the tragedies of Sophocles. His latest book of poetry, "District and Circle," was published this spring. Growing up in Northern Ireland, Heaney experienced for more than a quarter century the sectarian violence that marked the religious strife between Protestants and Catholics. His poetry and essays reflect a deep consciousness of the poet's social obligations, as in "The Redress of Poetry."

Heaney held the Chair of Poetry at Oxford University from 1989 to 1994 and has taught throughout his career at his alma mater, Queen's University, Belfast. He also has taught at the University of California-Berkeley and at Harvard University, where he was the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory from 1984 to 1996 and now serves as the Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet-in-Residence.

In the 40 years since the publication of his first collection of poems, he has established himself as the foremost poet writing in English. His writings move the heart and stir the conscience. He has an unprecedented, and unparalleled, ability to make words equal to the world, and the world to words, so that one may not insert so much as a knifepoint between the two. To reapply Samuel Beckett’s aperçu on James Joyce, one might justly propose that his "writing is not about something; it is that something itself."

Freeman Hrabowski III, Doctor of Laws

Freeman Hrabowski's research, publications and life's work focus on science and mathematics education, with special emphasis on nurturing a new generation of minorities in those fields. Hrabowski pursues these goals as president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, a position he has held since 1992. High school students from around the United States become part of UMBC's Meyerhoff Scholars program, and 90 percent of the students enrolled in that program graduate in math, engineering or the sciences. Ninety percent of those who graduate go on to graduate school.

Hrabowski is the co-author of "Overcoming the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Young Women" and "Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males." He has been a member of the boards of the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Baltimore Community Foundation. He serves as a consultant to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and universities and school systems nationally. Hrabowski is a member of numerous civic and educational boards, including the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Urban Institute and the Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America.

Jailed at 12 along with hundreds of other children for participating in the Birmingham Children's March, he helped bring an end to the reign of a racist police commissioner. Losing a best friend in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963, he helped Spike Lee tell the story in the 1997 documentary "Four Little Girls." Beating the odds himself with a summa cum laude degree in mathematics at 19 and his Ph.D. by 24, he has spent his life teaching that the best weapon is knowledge and the best training ground is the classroom and research lab. His programs to nurture and support young African Americans have helped them succeed in unprecedented numbers, proving his theorem that it is "cool to be smart."

Dolores Huerta, Doctor of Laws

The daughter of a miner, farm worker and union organizer, Dolores Huerta has been a labor activist since co-founding the United Farm Workers of America union in 1962 with César Chávez. Huerta, who grew up in Stockton, Calif., studied education at Delta Community College and began teaching elementary school. Troubled by the poverty she saw among her students, many of them children of Latino farm workers, she gave up her teaching career to advocate full time on behalf of those in her community, beginning an activist career that continues to this day.

In the 1970s, successive strikes by the UFW led to passage of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which guaranteed the rights of California farm workers to organize and hold elections on the question of union representation and required growers to bargain in good faith if workers voted for a union. That victory was followed by battles that eventually gave farm workers disability insurance, bilingual voting ballots and unemployment assistance. Her advocacy for legislation granting amnesty for farm workers who were working and paying taxes in the United States helped pass the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. She also has fought to ban the use of toxic pesticides on crops. In 2003, Huerta received the Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship in recognition of almost 50 years of work for farm workers' rights, challenging the status quo "through distinctive, courageous, imaginative, socially responsible work of significance." She used the prize to establish the Dolores Huerta Foundation, which focuses on community organizing and leadership training in low-income, underrepresented communities. Her other awards include induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame, the Ellis Island Medal of Freedom Award and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's Medallion of Excellence for community service.

Outraged by the daily specter of students too hungry to learn, she traded the classroom for the picket line. A courageous labor activist, she co-founded the United Farm Workers of America to ensure that those who work to feed us have the wherewithal to feed themselves and their families. An inspired civil rights activist, she rewrote California's legal compact with its farm workers and gave voiceless communities a voice -- in Spanish and English -- through ballot drives and lobbying efforts. Through her insatiable hunger for justice -- La Causa -- and her tireless advocacy, she has devoted her life to creative, compassionate and committed citizenship.