Princeton awards five honorary degrees

Princeton University awarded honorary degrees during Commencement exercises June 2 to five distinguished individuals for their contributions to civic engagement, performing arts, engineering and sustainability.

Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman awarded degrees to Ernesto Cortés Jr., an influential community organizer; Ruby Dee Davis, a renowned actor and civil rights activist; Irvin Glassman, a leading figure in combustion and energy research and Princeton's Robert H. Goddard Professor Emeritus of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Meryl Streep, an Academy Award-winning actor and advocate for women's rights; and Alice Waters, a celebrated chef and proponent of sustainable cuisine.

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.

Ernesto Cortés Jr., Doctor of Laws

A native of San Antonio, Texas, Ernesto Cortés Jr. is the executive director of the Interfaith Education Fund and the southwest regional director of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a community-organizing network with affiliates in 21 states, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany. As a young man, he worked with César Chávez and the farm workers and then with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. In 1972, he went to Chicago to learn from Saul Alinsky, the legendary organizer and founder of the IAF. In 1974, Cortés founded Communities Organized for Public Services in San Antonio. Since then, he has helped build more than two dozen nonpartisan citizens' groups in cities from New Orleans to Des Moines to Los Angeles.

Throughout the IAF network that Cortés has helped cultivate, citizens gather regularly in living rooms, churches, synagogues and schools. They swap stories, identify shared concerns, work through differences, investigate the relevant facts, select and cultivate leaders, and take action to hold public officials and corporate executives accountable. The core leadership of the network now exceeds 25,000. Among its many accomplishments is the transformation of hundreds of "colonias" in the Rio Grande Valley from shantytowns into thriving communities with paved streets, sewerage and water systems. The network is also well known for the effectiveness of its efforts in job training, public school reform and living wage campaigns. For his community organizing efforts, Cortés received a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" in 1984 and was awarded the H.J. Heinz Award for Public Policy in 1999. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard University and at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.

Organizing, in his hands, works wonders: Those who were once silenced find their voice; those in authority are compelled to listen; parents and teachers join hands for the sake of children; the impoverished acquire skills and jobs; and shantytowns become prosperous neighborhoods. His message is that active and informed citizens, exercising power responsibly, can insist on accountability and achieve change. With his guidance, ordinary people, working together, are re-weaving the social fabric of democracy.

Ruby Dee Davis, Doctor of Fine Arts

Ruby Dee Davis' career has spanned many roles, including actor, author, activist and producer. Born in Cleveland but a self-proclaimed product of Harlem, the stage and screen legend who became known as "Ms. Dee" first attracted national attention in 1950 for her performance in "The Jackie Robinson Story" and broke ground in 1965 as the first black woman to play lead roles at the American Shakespeare Festival. In 1988, Dee was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame, honored for a host of award-winning performances in plays including "Purlie Victorious," "A Raisin in the Sun" and "A Long Day's Journey Into Night." For her work on television, Dee has been nominated seven times for Emmy Awards and was a winner in 1991 for "Decoration Day." In 2007, she was an Academy Award nominee for the film "American Gangster." Her latest film, "Steam," premiered earlier this year at the Women's International Film Festival in Miami.

Dee was the 2006 recipient of the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Civil Rights Museum for more than 50 years of supporting civil rights causes and creating opportunities for African Americans. As close friends of Martin Luther King Jr., she and her husband, Ossie Davis, served as masters of ceremonies for the historic 1963 March on Washington. Earlier, they risked their careers resisting McCarthyism. In 2000, they were presented with the Screen Actors Guild's highest honor, the Life Achievement Award.

A pioneer of stage and screen, an author and a producer, she transformed the worlds of 20th-century theater and film into humanitarian activist art. With lush, powerful and rolling eloquence, she moved us from the "dream deferred" era of "A Raisin in the Sun" to "Do the Right Thing." With her husband, the late, great Ossie Davis, she has dedicated more than half a century to providing cultural fuel for the civil rights movement. From Shakespearean tragedy to "American Gangster" tragedy, she has turned each performance into a testimony celebrating the three-dimensional personhood of African American women.

Irvin Glassman, Doctor of Science

Irvin Glassman, a Baltimore native, is Princeton's Robert H. Goddard Professor Emeritus of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He is an authority on combustion as applied to problems in energy production, pollution, propulsion and fire safety. He also has made important contributions to understanding fuel reactions at very high temperatures and pressures and to the synthesis of high-temperature refractory materials. Glassman retired in 1999 after 49 years on the University faculty. He has received numerous teaching honors, including the Ralph Coats Roe Award from the American Society for Engineering Education and the School of Engineering and Applied Science Distinguished Teaching Award. He has taught and mentored dozens of students who now are leaders in research universities and at industrial research groups throughout the world. In 1972, Glassman founded the University's Center for Energy and Environmental Studies.

Glassman has been a member and chair of the NATO/AGARD Propulsion and Energetics Panel and a member of the National Academy of Science's Committee on Motor Vehicle Emissions. He is editor and founder of the journal Combustion Science and Technology and has published more than 250 articles as well as two major books. Glassman has received several awards for his technical contributions, and in 1996 was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

His colleagues affectionately call him the "Grand Old Man of Combustion." His half century of research and teaching defined a field that propelled us to the moon and started us on the path to more efficient use of energy. He insisted, for himself and his students, on a deep understanding of the science behind the chaos of a flame, sending forth scores of new leaders who now populate the field. His gift for looking ahead led him 35 years ago to see beyond the raw power of fuels and train his energy on challenges to the environment, sparking a field of critical importance today that may determine our quality of life tomorrow.

Meryl Streep, Doctor of Fine Arts

Meryl Streep, who was born in Summit, N.J., is an actress known across the globe for her roles in film, theater and television. On stage, she has appeared in plays by Shakespeare, Strindberg, Chekhov, Brecht and Tennessee Williams. On television, she has starred in the groundbreaking miniseries "Holocaust" and "Angels in America." But she is best known for her film work, in such enduring classics as "The Deer Hunter," "Manhattan," "Kramer vs. Kramer," "The French Lieutenant's Woman," "Sophie's Choice," "Silkwood," "Out of Africa," "Heartburn," "Adaptation," "The Hours," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Mamma Mia!" and "Doubt." This summer will see the release of her latest film, "Julie and Julia," in which she plays the first television celebrity chef, Julia Child. She holds the record for Academy Award (15) and Golden Globe (23) nominations in acting, and has won two Oscars, six Golden Globes, two Emmys and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.

An outspoken advocate for women's rights, Streep is active in the Equality Now human rights organization. She works for the well-being of children and the environment through several initiatives and was a co-founder of Mothers and Others. She also has been a regular sponsor of the Academy of American Poets' "Poetry and the Creative Mind" Gala.

She has been called the greatest actor of her generation, and she has the résumé to prove it. In an age of celebrity, she represents craftsmanship; in an age dominated by directors, she represents the centrality of the actor; in an age of special effects, she represents the power of the written word and artful movement; in an age of virtual reality, she reminds us of the story's power to shed light on what is real. She sees herself as a translator whose mission is to explain people to each other. Today we tell her how well she has succeeded.

Alice Waters, Doctor of Humanities

Alice Waters, a chef, educator and activist, has been at the forefront of the movement toward local, organic and sustainable cuisine in the United States for nearly three decades. Born in Chatham, N.J., Waters opened her landmark restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., in 1971. The restaurant's singular fixed-price menu features the best local and sustainably produced ingredients, purchased from a network of nearby farmers and ranchers. Interested in bringing fresh food to a wider audience, Waters has written numerous cookbooks and also has been an advocate for local farmers markets and the Slow Food movement. In 1996, Waters began the Chez Panisse Foundation to support food-related educational programs such as the Edible Schoolyard, in which teachers use gardens to teach science lessons and to demonstrate the appeal of growing and cooking fresh produce.

Chez Panisse was named the best restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine in 2001. Waters' other honors include being named one of the world's 10 best chefs by Cuisine et Vins de France magazine in 1986, receiving the James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year Award in 1997, and receiving a lifetime achievement award from Bon Appetit magazine in 2000 and from the James Beard Foundation in 2004.

Sustenance for the soul as much as for the body, her glorious food has changed the way America eats -- and thinks. Her ensemble of organic farmers, winemakers and restaurant staff brings real food to a society smothered in fast food choices, yet starved for nourishment. At a time when global agribusiness threatens not just to perfect the art of tasteless produce, but to effect a radical reduction in crop diversity, her advocacy for sustainable agriculture and slow food may change the way our children eat -- and how they understand the world.