Princeton awards seven honorary degrees

Princeton University awarded honorary degrees during Commencement exercises June 5 to seven distinguished individuals for their contributions to humanitarian efforts and athletic achievements, aerospace and public service, science, literature, medicine, history and the arts.

Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman awarded degrees to Muhammad Ali, the legendary boxer and humanitarian; Norman Augustine, the former chief executive officer and chairman of the aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp.; Elizabeth Blackburn, a pioneering molecular biologist; Robert Fagles, a celebrated literary translator and Princeton's Arthur Marks '19 Professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus; LaSalle Leffall Jr., a leading cancer surgeon and researcher; Fritz Stern, a renowned historian of modern Germany; and Twyla Tharp, an award-winning choreographer and director.

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.

Muhammad Ali, Doctor of Humanities

Muhammad Ali became the first boxer to win the world heavyweight title three times. His career started when, at 18, he won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics with a style that challenged the game's sacred teachings. In 1961, he beat Sonny Liston in a fight that first gained him the world heavyweight title and that has been credited with restoring intelligence and balance to boxing. As a member of the Muslim faith and a conscientious objector, Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War when drafted and was stripped of his titles and his license to fight in many states. In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his status as a conscientious objector. He regained his world heavyweight title in 1974, defeating George Foreman. He dethroned Leon Spinks in 1978 to win the title for the third time. When Ali retired in 1981, his career record stood at 56-5, with 37 knockouts.

Outside the ring, Ali has fought for humanitarian causes from feeding the hungry and caring for the sick at home and abroad to advocating for children's rights. Ali has embarked on goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea, and his humanitarian efforts have been widely recognized. Amnesty International honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award, and the secretary-general of the United Nations bestowed upon him the citation of United Nations Messenger of Peace. In 2005 he received a National Medal of Freedom from President Bush for his "deep commitment to equal justice and peace" and "for his lifetime of achievement and for his principled service to mankind."

Acclaimed throughout the world as the most gifted, most imaginative, most audacious and most courageous of heavyweight boxing champions, he has long been revered as one of the great athletes of all time. Unwavering in his moral commitments, he has fought tenaciously outside the ring for freedom of conscience, for equality and justice, and for the dignity and emancipation of all people. An Olympian of global reach and Herculean determination, he inspires even the least athletic among us to float like the butterfly, sting like the bee and aim for nothing less than the gold.

Norman Augustine, Doctor of Laws

Norman Augustine received his undergraduate and master's degrees in aeronautical engineering from Princeton in 1957 and 1959, respectively. After spending nearly 20 years as an engineer at aerospace companies and serving twice as undersecretary of the Army, he joined the Martin Marietta Corp., a leading aerospace and defense manufacturer, in 1977, and became chairman and CEO. He then served as president of the Lockheed Martin Corp. upon its formation in 1995 and was named its CEO and chairman before retiring in 1997.

In 2005, Augustine led the highly influential National Academies panel that produced "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," a congressionally requested report that detailed steps federal policymakers could take to ensure a strong competitive position for America in the emerging global economy. Augustine was a term trustee of Princeton, and he has maintained close ties with the University's School of Engineering and Applied Science, including an appointment as a visiting lecturer. He has served on numerous other boards and as chairman and principal officer of the American Red Cross, president of the Boy Scouts of America and chair of the National Academy of Engineering. He has received many honors for his public service contributions, including the 2003 U.S. Space Foundation's first lifetime achievement award and the 2006 National Academies' Public Welfare Medal. He has written or co-written numerous books including "Augustine's Laws" (1982).

Ever guided by his moral compass and ever clear-eyed about his commitment to excellence, he steered one of America's most crucial industries safely through the rocky uncertainties of a Cold War world. His clarion call challenged his nation to rise above the gathering storm and face squarely the risks and opportunities that lie ahead in the uncharted future of science and technology. A public servant, teacher and author, a master of insightful analysis and captivating aphorisms, he offers us a blueprint for a better future and a better world.

Elizabeth Blackburn, Doctor of Science

Elizabeth Blackburn is the Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology at the University of California-San Francisco. Her work is credited with creating a new field in molecular biology -- the molecular description of telomeres, the short sections of DNA at the ends of chromosomes in cell nuclei. Telomeres can be compared to the reinforced tips or aglets that keep shoelaces from fraying or unraveling. Blackburn showed that they consist of an unusual and almost universal structure, a long array of simple repeated DNA. Probing further, she found that these unusual structures are generated by a completely unanticipated mechanism -- the enzyme telomerase -- that uses RNA as a guide to make telomeric DNA. In three decades of research, Blackburn and her students have helped explain how telomeres act in protecting chromosomes from damage, in regulating cell division and cell death, in stabilizing cancer cells, and in such processes as aging and its associated diseases.

Blackburn, a native of Tasmania, began her career at the University of California-Berkeley and has been at University of California-San Francisco for 15 years. Among her many awards are the Gruber Genetics Prize, the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Life Sciences, the American Cancer Society Medal of Honor and the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine. She has been elected to the Institute of Medicine and is a fellow of the Royal Society of London, a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences and past president of the American Society for Cell Biology.

In her lab, she focuses on the tips of chromosomes, striving to harness telomeres and their constituent enzymes to slow the aging process and block the growth of cancer cells. In her career, she has bridged departments, created new fields of inquiry, inspired students and personified integrity. In her public life, she has held policymakers and scientists to the highest ethical standards, and she has insisted that scientific policy be based on scientific evidence. "Queen of the telomeres," a daughter of Tasmania, and now adopted by Princeton, she embodies a lifelong commitment to the discovery of knowledge in the service of others.

Robert Fagles, Doctor of Humane Letters

Robert Fagles is Princeton's Arthur Marks '19 Professor of Comparative Literature Emeritus. His teaching and research specialties are the classical tradition in English and European literature; the theory and practice of translation; interrelationships between the arts; and forms of poetry: lyric, tragedy and epic. One of the world's most celebrated literary translators, he has created English renditions of several important monuments of classical Greek and Roman literature, including plays by Aeschylus and Sophocles; Homer's epics, "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," both of which became best-sellers; and Virgil's "The Aeneid," published in 2007.

Fagles joined the Princeton faculty in the Department of English in 1960. Starting in 1966, he was director of the Program in Comparative Literature, which attained department status in 1975. He served as founding chair of the department from 1975 to 1994 and retired from the faculty in 2002. He has received numerous awards, including the National Humanities Medal, the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, the Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award of the Academy of American Poets and Princeton's Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities. Fagles was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In a language the ancient poets could not know, he sings of wars and a man, of a man of twists and turns, and of the rage of Achilles, with such perfect pitch that he must have held the Muse enthralled. We tell here of his four decades of feats on behalf of Princeton, as the founding father of comparative literature, as a gracious and wise colleague and as an inspiring mentor and teacher. His translations bring to life not just the words but the unquenchable spirit of the ancient masterpieces, as through his verses he takes us once more to the windy plain of Troy, across the wine-dark sea and to the high walls of Rome. Through these inadequate words we salute him, his work and his own unquenchable spirit.

LaSalle Leffall Jr., Doctor of Science

For half a century, LaSalle Leffall has devoted his medical expertise to the study and treatment of cancer, particularly among African Americans. Leffall joined the faculty of Howard University in 1962 and for 25 years served as chair of its Department of Surgery. In 1992, he was named the Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery. Last year, he completed his final round of surgeries, retiring after teaching more than 5,000 medical students and training more than 250 general surgery residents.

Leffall's work on cancer has extended beyond research and teaching to developing new strategies for its diagnosis and treatment. In 1979, as president of the American Cancer Society, he launched a groundbreaking program that focused on understanding and responding to the increased incidence and mortality of cancer in African Americans. In 2005, he chaired a panel advising President Bush on cancer policy. It recommended placing a premium on "translational" science, which shepherds basic research through drug development to clinical trials and the bedside. He is the author of numerous publications, including an autobiography, "No Boundaries: A Cancer Surgeon's Odyssey." Leffall is a diplomate of the American Board of Surgery and a fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology and of the American College of Surgeons, where, as president, he advanced the causes of pluralism and equal opportunity. He is past president of the Society of Surgical Oncology and a member of the Society of Surgical Chairmen and the Washington Academy of Surgery as well as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in England.

For more than 50 years he has brought his skills as a surgeon, oncologist and educator to the fight against cancer. By combining his extensive medical knowledge with compassion and determination, he has forged formidable weapons against life-threatening disease, while nurturing a new generation of doctors to carry on his good work. Knowing that no cure can be effective if access to it is denied, he has championed life-affirming public policy, especially for African Americans and economically disadvantaged populations. His entire life has been a quest to overcome barriers in an odyssey with no boundaries.

Fritz Stern, Doctor of Humane Letters

Fritz Stern is University Professor Emeritus of Columbia University and has gained an international reputation as one of the most respected historians of modern Germany. He was born in Germany in 1926 and, when he was 12, he and his family fled Nazi Germany for the United States. Stern did his undergraduate work at Columbia and remained to complete his master's and doctorate in history. He joined Columbia's faculty in 1953, was named the Seth Low Professor of History in 1967, served as university provost from 1980 to 1983 and was appointed a University Professor in 1992.

During his half-century of teaching at Columbia, Stern received a Great Teacher Award, a Lionel Trilling Book Award and a Bancroft Award for Retiring Professor. He was elected to Germany's Orden Pour le Mérite für Wissenschaften und Künste, joining seven Nobel laureates and other international leaders in the arts and sciences in the historic honor society. He is the recipient of the Alexander von Humboldt Research Prize and the Leo Baeck Medal for his research on German history, Jewish Germans and the origins of National Socialism. Stern's scholarship continues to dominate his field, in some cases four decades after its appearance. Among his works chronicling German history are "The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology" (1961), "Gold and Iron: Bismarck, Bleichröder and the Building of the German Empire" (1977), "Dreams and Delusions: The Drama of German History" (1987), "Einstein's German World" (1991) and "Five Germanys I Have Known" (2006). He has been an influential adviser to American and German policymakers, serving as senior adviser in Bonn to the U.S. ambassador in the 1990s and as a member of Die Deutsche Nationalstiftung's Senate. 

An exile from Hitler's Germany, at home on both sides of the Atlantic; a public intellectual in Germany and in the United States; and a superb scholar equally at ease before an audience of legislators, public servants or university students -- he has enlightened us all. Intimately conversant with "five Germanys," from Bismarck to Einstein, he wove in his writings an intricate tapestry on grand themes of German and European history, and on the fragility of democracy in the modern world. Defying the stereotype of academia as an "ivory tower," he teaches us, by example, the virtue of engagement.

Twyla Tharp, Doctor of Fine Arts

Since her graduation from Barnard College in 1963, Twyla Tharp has choreographed more than 125 dances and five Hollywood movies. She has directed and choreographed two Broadway shows, written two books and won major awards. She founded her dance company, Twyla Tharp Dance, in 1965, and has choreographed for many other companies, including American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, the Boston Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance and the Martha Graham Dance Company. In film, Tharp has collaborated with directors such as Milos Forman ("Hair" and "Amadeus") and James Brooks ("I'll Do Anything"). Her television credits include directing "Making Television Dance," which won the Chicago International Film Festival Award, and "Baryshnikov by Tharp," which won two Emmy Awards as well as the Director's Guild of America Award for Outstanding Director Achievement.

Tharp's work first appeared on Broadway in 1980 with "When We Were Very Young." Her 2002  dance musical "Movin' Out," set to the music and lyrics of Billy Joel, received the Tony Award, the Astaire Award, the Drama League Award for Sustained Achievement in Musical Theater, and both the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Choreography. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2004, she was the Belknap Visitor in the Humanities at Princeton.

Classicist and postmodernist, traditionalist and iconoclast, disciplinarian and clown, she has proved through her work that no human movement is alien to her. Whether creating at Lincoln Center or on Broadway, with ballet companies or with modern dancers, in film or on television, with the music of Bach, the Beach Boys or Billy Joel, she has refused to allow either herself or her art to be pigeonholed. Whitmanesque in the breadth, force and freshness of her vision, ambition and achievement, she has staged the body electric in ways that have expanded the range of how and what dance might mean and, in doing so, has won dance new audiences.