Princeton awards six honorary degrees

Princeton University awarded honorary degrees during Commencement exercises Tuesday, June 2, to six individuals for their contributions to civil rights, engineering, the law, literature and service to the nation. 

Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber awarded degrees to Harry Belafonte, social activist and artist; David Billington, the Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, at Princeton; Ann Dunwoody, retired four-star general of the U.S. Army; Deborah Poritz, lawyer and former chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey; John Paul Stevens, retired associate justice of the Supreme Court; and Mario Vargas Llosa, Peruvian novelist and Nobel laureate in literature.


In the Faculty Room of Nassau Hall, Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber (third from right) gathers with honorary degree recipients (from left) Mario Vargas Llosa, Harry Belafonte, Deborah Poritz, John Paul Stevens, Ann Dunwoody and David Billington. (Photo by Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications)

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

Harry Belafonte, Doctor of Laws

Harry Belafonte's life has spanned many roles, including actor, singer-songwriter, social activist and producer. With a recording career that began in his early 20s, Belafonte became famous for his blend of pop, jazz, and Caribbean musical styles, and was dubbed "The King of Calypso." He won three Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, and a Tony Award. His star power propelled him into film acting in the 1950s, with titles including "Carmen Jones, Island in the Sun," and "Odds Against Tomorrow." His later work focused on documentaries. In 1960, he won an Emmy Award for his TV special, "Tonight With Harry Belafonte." He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994. Belafonte has received numerous honors for his humanitarian work. As a civil rights activist, he was a confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. In the 1980s, he helped start the USA for Africa project to fight hunger. He played a key role in recording the 1985 multi-artist song, "We Are the World," to raise funds for Africa. Recently, Belafonte founded Sankofa, a nonprofit organization that brings together artists and grassroots organizations to confront social issues. 

Raised in poverty in Harlem and Jamaica, he became one of the foremost entertainers of his generation, generously sharing his fame to further the careers of others. Following in the footsteps of Paul Robeson, he used music to bridge national and ethnic differences. In working tirelessly for civil rights across the South, opposing apartheid in South Africa, and mobilizing famine relief for Ethiopia, he has reminded us that we are the world. His integrity and courage inspire admiration and imitation, and his example strengthens our hope that the daybreak of justice, peace, and equality may still come, if we, like him, let our light shine: Day-O!

David Billington, Doctor of Science

David Billington is the Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, at Princeton University. A 1950 graduate of Princeton, Billington started teaching at the University in 1960 and transferred to emeritus status in 2010. Billington is well known for his design work on large structures, including bridges and thin-shell concrete structures. A legendary teacher, Billington has taught generations of Princeton undergraduates, building connections between engineering and other disciplines through popular courses such as "Structures and the Urban Environment" and "Engineering in the Modern World." He earned numerous honors, including three Engineering Council awards, the President's Distinguished Teaching Award and the National Science Foundation Director's Award for Distinguished Teaching Scholars. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineers in 1986 and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His books include "Power, Speed and Form: Engineers and the Making of the Twentieth Century," with his son, David Billington Jr.; "The Innovators: The Engineering Pioneers Who Made America"; and "Félix Candela: Engineer, Builder, Structural Artist," with colleague Maria Garlock. Billington received his B.S.E. from Princeton in 1950.

An epic scholar and legendary teacher, he inspired students, colleagues and designers to integrate the discipline of engineering with the play of art. From Fulton’s steamboat to Maillart’s bridges, he introduced us to the engineering pioneers who revolutionized the world and opened our eyes to the creativity of engineering at its best. "Structural art" is his vocabulary for bridges, towers, and vaults that embrace efficiency through form, economy through construction, and elegance through structural expression. His legacy is the generations of students whose lives were formed and shaped by exposure to his love for and deep appreciation of engineering as art.

Ann Dunwoody, Doctor of Laws

Ann Dunwoody is a retired general of the U.S. Army. In 2008, she became the first woman in U.S. military history to achieve a four-star officer rank. She retired in 2012 after 37 years of service. During her last four years in service, she led the largest global logistics command in the Army, with 69,000 military and civilian personnel in all 50 states and more than 140 countries. She managed the Army's logistics operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as contingency operations in Haiti, Pakistan and Japan. Dunwoody's military honors include two Distinguished Service Medals, a Defense Superior Service Medal and three Legion of Merit awards. She was awarded the National Order of Merit by France. As she did during her career, Dunwoody continues to speak out against sexual assault in the military. Dunwoody is president of First 2 Four, LLC, a leadership mentoring and strategic advisory services company. Her book, "A Higher Standard," was published in April. Dunwoody received her B.A. from State University of New York College at Cortland and master's degrees from the Florida Institute of Technology and Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

The first female four-star general in U.S. history, she comes from a family that has defended the nation since before the Civil War. During almost four decades in the military, she oversaw operations of staggering complexity in every state and all across the world. Her passion was to serve and her guide star was "never forget the soldier." A persistent and continuing voice calling for respect and fair treatment for women, she embodies a line from the official Army anthem: She is "always fighting from the heart."

Deborah Poritz, Doctor of Laws

Deborah Poritz served as chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey from 1996 to 2006. During her tenure, she authored numerous opinions on significant issues, including the right of same-sex couples to wed. Prior to serving as the court's first female chief justice, she served as New Jersey's first female attorney general. In that role, she defended Megan's Law in state and federal courts and chaired the task force that proposed and implemented a reorganization and reformation of the juvenile justice system in the state. Previously, she was chief counsel to Gov. Thomas Kean, a member of Princeton's Class of 1957. Poritz currently is of counsel in the Princeton office of the law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath. She has received the National Association of Women Judges' Lifetime Achievement Award and the Civic Leadership Award from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, among others. She has held numerous leadership positions in professional organizations. Poritz received her B.A. from Brooklyn College and her J.D. from University of Pennsylvania Law School. 

After teaching school and then earning her law degree at the age of 40, she ascended to this state's highest legal offices. A pioneering jurist, she was the first woman to serve as chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court and the first woman to serve as the State’s attorney general. Her commitment to fair treatment helped secure opportunities and protections for many facing discrimination and injustice. This Brooklyn native has long been at home in Princeton where she applies her wise counsel in her law practice and in interactions with our students, encouraging determined advocacy on behalf of a civic and social vision that seeks the best in all of us. 

John Paul Stevens, Doctor of Laws

Nominated to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford in 1975, John Paul Stevens served as associate justice until his retirement in 2010. At the time of his retirement, he was the oldest member of the Court and the third-longest serving in Court history. Stevens served in the United States Navy from 1942 to 1945. He was admitted to law practice in Illinois in 1949 and focused on antitrust law. In 1970, he was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Before retiring from the Supreme Court, Stevens had written some 1,400 opinions, roughly half of them dissents. In 2011, Stevens participated in a conversation on campus with then-Provost Christopher L. Eisgruber, who served as a law clerk for Stevens from August 1989 to July 1990. In 2012, Stevens received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Stevens is the author of "Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution," published last year. Stevens received his A.B. from the University of Chicago and his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law. 

After defending our freedom in World War II, he devoted his career to upholding our Constitution. His 40 years on the bench, including 35 on the Supreme Court, were distinguished by careful legal craftsmanship and steadfast adherence to constitutional ideals. A champion of liberty and an exemplar of reasoned judgment, his jurisprudence manifested a deep regard for the dignity of every individual, the traditions of the American people, and the values of our country. After leaving the Court, he has remained a thoughtful and prolific commentator on the Constitution, extending still further his legacy as one of this nation’s most compelling advocates for freedom, justice and the rule of law.

Mario Vargas Llosa, Doctor of Letters

The acclaimed Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2010 when he was teaching for a semester at Princeton. He first taught at Princeton in 1992, and most recently he taught in 2013. His literary papers are housed in the University's Firestone Library. Known for his deep engagement with politics and history and for his deft storytelling, Vargas Llosa has been a major figure in Latin American fiction since his debut novel, "The Time of the Hero," was published in Spanish in 1963. He has written more than a dozen novels, as well as nonfiction and drama. Among his novels are: "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter," "The War of the End of the World," "The Feast of the Goat," and "The Dream of the Celt." His latest book, "The Discreet Hero: A Novel," was published in March. Vargas Llosa earned his bachelor's degree from Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and his Ph.D. from Universidad Complutense de Madrid. 

For half a century, since the publication of "The Time of the Hero," he has helped us take in the specifics of his native Peru, and take on a much more spacious purview. He writes with a rare combination of intellectual vigor and emotional valor that allows him to tackle subjects, including the overtly political, from which many would simply shy away. We honor him today as a truth teller, a tester of boundaries, a master of his craft, and a teacher in the broadest sense of the term.