Princeton University awarded honorary degrees during Commencement exercises Tuesday, May 31, to six distinguished individuals for their contributions to athletics, human rights, clinical research, education, the humanities, the arts and the law.
Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman awarded degrees to Henry "Hank" Aaron, baseball Hall-of-Famer; Geoffrey Canada, champion for children in Harlem; Susan Desmond-Hellmann, clinical researcher and chancellor of the University of California-San Francisco; Charles Gillispie, Princeton's Dayton Stockton Professor of History Emeritus; Judith Jamison, dancer and choreographer and artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; and Princeton alumnus Robert Rawson Jr., legal expert and long-serving member of the University's Board of Trustees.
The following is biographical information on the recipients and the official citations.
Henry Aaron, Doctor of Humanities
Henry "Hank" Aaron is one of the most accomplished baseball players in American history and is currently senior vice president of the Atlanta Braves. As a player entering Major League Baseball soon after its integration in 1954, he confronted racism with quiet dignity, and as an executive he has fought discrimination in hiring practices. Aaron surpassed Babe Ruth to become the all-time home-run king in 1974, and with his 755 total home runs he held the title until 2007. Over a 23-year career, he also set records for games played, at bats, total bases, extra-base hits and runs batted in. Aaron was the first player to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. A .305 lifetime batter who finished with 3,771 hits, he was voted the National League's Most Valuable Player in 1957, won three Gold Gloves for his defensive play in right field and was named to 25 All-Star teams.
Before retiring in 1976, Aaron played for the Milwaukee Braves, Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers, after stints in the Negro American League and the minor leagues. He won a World Series championship with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957. After he finished his playing career, his uniform number, 44, was retired in Milwaukee and Atlanta. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, and in 1999, the same year Aaron was named to the All-Century Team, Major League Baseball established the Hank Aaron Award for the best regular season offensive performance. Aaron received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.
He was 17 when he left Alabama and embarked on one of the greatest careers in baseball history, beginning in the Negro American League. When he joined the major league Milwaukee Braves, his signing bonus was a cardboard suitcase. When he retired after 23 major league seasons, he probably held the record for the most records held, including the record for career home runs at 755. As he approached Babe Ruth's record of 714, he received almost a million letters, many of them abusive. Today America is a much better place with much more opportunity for all, in part because he gave all of us an imperishable example of grace under pressure.
Geoffrey Canada, Doctor of Laws
Geoffrey Canada, who grew up on welfare in New York's South Bronx, is known for his pioneering work helping children and families in Harlem, and as a passionate advocate for education reform. Since 1990 he has been chief executive officer of Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ), which targets a specific geographic area in Central Harlem with a comprehensive range of services. These include asthma prevention plans; fresh-produce deliveries; dental, medical and psychiatric care; after-school arts and music programs; tenant-ownership schemes; early-childhood education; charter schools; and counseling for parents. The goal of HCZ is to create a neighborhood "tipping point" through which its programs support the community environment and benefit even those children not involved with the Children's Zone. Today the HCZ Project covers 100 city blocks and serves 8,000 children.
Canada has received numerous accolades for his work, including the first Heinz Award in 1994, the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education Award in 2004 and the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2007. In April he was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. In 2006 Canada was selected by Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, to serve as co-chair of the Commission on Economic Opportunity, which was asked to formulate a plan to significantly reduce poverty.
He came of age in the violence and chaos of the South Bronx, and then found a road out through education. With degrees from Bowdoin and Harvard, he traveled back to those embattled neighborhoods, committed to helping disadvantaged children forge pathways out of poverty. Under his leadership, the Harlem Children's Zone has grown from a pilot project supporting a single block to a nationally extolled initiative that rebuilds communities over 100 blocks and helps children stay on track through college and into the job market. Throughout his career, he has lived the lines of his own 1996 poem: "To say to the children in this land: / Have hope. We're here."
Susan Desmond-Hellmann, Doctor of Science
Susan Desmond-Hellmann has served as chancellor of the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF), one of the nation's most distinguished academic medical centers, since 2009. From 2004 to 2009 she was president of product development at Genentech, with wide-ranging responsibilities for bringing drugs from the laboratory bench to the market. Among the promising and innovative oncology drugs she oversaw are Rituxan, which treats both lymphomas and rheumatoid arthritis; Herceptin, which targets a specific subtype of breast cancer; and Avastin, which is designed to stop tumors by preventing the formation of new blood vessels.
Desmond-Hellmann joined Genentech in 1995 as a clinical scientist. Previously she was associate director of clinical research at the Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute. She also has served as associate adjunct professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF and spent two years as a visiting faculty member at the Uganda Cancer Institute, studying HIV/AIDS and cancer. Desmond-Hellmann was appointed to the California Academy of Sciences board of trustees in 2008 and named to the Biotech Hall of Fame in 2007. She often has appeared in Fortune magazine's list of the top 50 most powerful women in business.
Her lifelong dedication to medicine led to a stellar career as an oncologist, clinical scientist and one of the world's most accomplished businesswomen. Now chancellor of the University of California-San Francisco, she is applying to the public sector the experience and wisdom she gained as a physician-scientist in the United States and Africa; as a world leader in the development of groundbreaking drugs effective against common human cancers; and as a senior executive of the world’s most successful biotechnology company. Her career exemplifies the breakthroughs that can occur when scientists and physicians work together to create new knowledge and then translate it into effective medicines.
Charles Gillispie, Doctor of Humane Letters
Charles Gillispie joined Princeton's faculty in 1947 and transferred to emeritus status in 1987. Gillispie, a recognized expert in the life and setting of scientific technological activity in 18th-century France, established Princeton's Program in History of Science and served as director from 1960 to 1966 and 1976 to 1980; he also was chair of the Department of History from 1971 to 1973. With his colleague Thomas Kuhn, he gave impetus to the founding of the field of history and philosophy of science as an academic discipline. He was editor-in-chief of the Dictionary of Scientific Biography, a 16-volume landmark series that won the American Library Association's 1981 Dartmouth Medal for outstanding reference works. His other seminal publications include "The Edge of Objectivity: An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas" and "Science and Polity in France: The End of the Old Regime," winner of the History of Science Society’s Pfizer Award.
Gillispie also is a founding and current adviser for the Daniel M. Sachs Class of 1960 Scholarship, which is one of the highest awards given to Princeton undergraduates. Gillispie's numerous honors include the International Balzan Prize for History and Philosophy of Science in 1997, the History of Science Society's George Sarton Medal in 1984 for lifetime scholarly achievement, Princeton's Howard T. Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities in 1981, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1954 and, on his retirement, election as an honorary member of the Princeton class of 1960.
In both life and work, he tempers the precision of science with the grace of the humanities, bridging the two cultures with uncommon intelligence and style. A founder of his field, the history of science, at Princeton and around the world, he has made contributions that are literally encyclopedic. He personifies the iconic "professor" with his uncompromising scholarly standards, his unparalleled devotion to the Sachs Scholars and his unwavering commitment to the bowtie and the plaid. Generations of students, and Princeton herself, have flourished under his steady tutelage and his gentle guidance.
Judith Jamison, Doctor of Fine Arts
Dancer and choreographer Judith Jamison will retire in June as the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, one of the world's most successful modern-dance troupes, which she has led since 1989. Jamison made her New York debut with the American Ballet Theatre in 1964 after being discovered by Agnes de Mille. She soon joined Alvin Ailey's company, where she was a member for 15 years, dancing some of Ailey's most memorable parts, most notably the solo "Cry."
Jamison has appeared as a guest artist with ballet companies all over the world and in 1988 formed her own company, The Jamison Project. Appointed in 1989 as Ailey's heir, Jamison raised a multimillion-dollar endowment for the company and facilitated a move to its first permanent home in New York, the Joan Weill Center for Dance, in 2004. She has promoted the work of women by developing the Women's Choreography Initiative, and, as artistic director of the dance company's Ailey School, helped implement a multicultural curriculum that incorporates dances of West Africa and South Asia. Jamison has received numerous honors and awards, including the Kennedy Center Honors in 1999, a National Medal of Arts in 2001 and the Paul Robeson Award in 2004.
"Cry," that most soul-piercing human sound, can express the pain of loss or sorrow, or can proclaim the exhilaration of victory or joy. She danced the word, and in this, as in all of her solo performances, she helps us feel and understand the human condition in its many manifestations. She believes in the power of dance to transform, and for more than 20 years she has transformed countless lives as teacher and choreographer, as legendary dancer and adventurous leader of one of the world's premier dance companies. As she now retires as its artistic director, we thank her for the beauty she has given us by giving her our heartfelt applause.
Robert Rawson Jr., Doctor of Laws
Robert Rawson served from 1985 to 2005 on Princeton's Board of Trustees, including 13 years as chair of its executive committee. During his tenure serving three Princeton presidents, the University adopted its no-loan financial aid policy, designed the four-year college system now in place and renewed many beloved campus buildings. While he was chair of the executive committee, the University celebrated its 250th anniversary, and the Anniversary Campaign for Princeton raised $1.14 billion. He chaired the search that selected Shirley M. Tilghman as president.
A 1966 Princeton graduate who majored in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Rawson was a Rhodes Scholar before earning his law degree from Harvard University. Rawson is a partner at the Jones Day law firm, where he is highly regarded as a litigator, with particular expertise in antitrust matters. He was partner-in-charge of the Cleveland office for 15 years. He currently serves as the interim dean of the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where he has made his top priorities raising funds for scholarships and enhancing the school's career services. His contributions to education also include service as a trustee of the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education, as vice chair of the board of trustees of Cleveland State University and as past chair of the Cleveland Initiative for Education, which marshals private resources in aid of the Cleveland Public Schools. Rawson is a life trustee of the National Civic League and a member of the board of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.
Consummate counselor, civic leader and trustee par excellence, he has demonstrated rare vision, wisdom and courage in shaping the young people, institutions and communities to which he has devoted his life. Today we honor him especially for his years of devoted service to his alma mater. A trustee under three presidents and for an exceptional 13 years the leader of the Board of Trustees as chair of its executive committee, he deftly guided this University through transformative change, while also holding firm to its core values and strengths. Under his stewardship, the University deepened its commitments to excellence and access; his legacy is an institution held in trust to serve the public good -- ever new, and enduringly, "the best old place of all."