Princeton awards six honorary degrees

Princeton University awarded honorary degrees during Commencement exercises Tuesday, May 31, to six individuals for their contributions to the humanities, economics, journalism, law, medicine, history and public service.  

Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber awarded degrees to Ben Bernanke, a former Federal Reserve chairman who was on the Princeton faculty; Eric Foner, the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University; Shuli Hu, a journalist and founder of Caixin Media in China; Robert Rivers, a retired surgeon and Princeton alumnus; Bryan Stevenson, a public-interest lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative; and Froma Zeitlin, the Ewing Professor of Greek Language and Literature, Emeritus, at Princeton.

Commencement 2016 Honorary degrees with President Eisgruber

In the Faculty Room of Nassau Hall, Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber (center) gathers with honorary degree recipients (from left) Bryan Stevenson, Robert Rivers, Eric Foner, Ben Bernanke, Froma Zeitlin and Shuli Hu. (Photo by Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications)

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


Ben Bernanke, Doctor of Laws

Ben Bernanke served two terms as chairman of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve, from February 2006 through January 2014. Prior to his appointment, he was chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. He already had held several other positions in the Federal Reserve system. Bernanke was a faculty member at Princeton from 1985 to 2005, and was chair of the economics department from 1996 to 2002. He has published widely on economic issues, including monetary policy and macroeconomics. His 2015 book, "The Courage to Act: A Memoir of a Crisis and Its Aftermath," centers on the 2008 financial crisis that became known as the Great Recession. Bernanke is a Distinguished Fellow in Residence with the Economic Studies Program at the Brookings Institution and senior adviser to PIMCO and Citadel. His many honors include Guggenheim and Sloan fellowships, and he is a fellow of the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, he was the Baccalaureate speaker at Princeton. Bernanke received his bachelor's degree from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

History has its ironies. This celebrated scholar of monetary policy and Great Depression 1.0 wound up preventing Great Depression 2.0 from his command post at the Federal Reserve. When the house of cards crumbled in 2008, he and his colleagues first stabilized an epochal mess and then led the nation on a difficult path to recovery. His courage to act shored up America’s damaged financial foundations, and his steady hand at the helm inspired confidence when it was sorely needed. His place in history is assured, the nation is in his debt, and we are proud to have this opportunity to honor him.


Eric Foner, Doctor of Humane Letters

Eric Foner is the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. His scholarship focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery and 19th-century America. He has written or edited more than 20 books, publishes regularly in academic and popular publications, and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. His book, "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery," won the Pulitzer, Bancroft and Lincoln prizes for 2011. His latest book, "Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad," was published earlier this year. Foner has served as president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association and the Society of American Historians. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1989. Foner has curated several museum exhibitions, including "A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln," at the Chicago Historical Society. He received bachelor's degrees from Columbia College and the University of Oxford and a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

With an extraordinary combination of scholarly skill and moral insistence, he has fundamentally changed American historical studies. For 40 years, he has brilliantly reevaluated the ideological origins of our Civil War. His magnum opus reconceived the fight over the war’s outcome, Reconstruction, as a still-unfinished revolution to secure liberty and justice for all. In dozens of other works, and in a lifetime of inspired teaching, he has inspired others, and he has placed many long overlooked at the center of history’s fiery trial. His career honors his subjects, and with them the dictum of Frederick Douglass that “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” 


Shuli Hu, Doctor of Laws

Shuli Hu is editor-in-chief of Caixin Media and a professor in the School of Communication and Design at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong, China. A veteran journalist, Hu in 1998 founded the finance and economics magazine Caijing, where she investigated news stories that often pressed the Chinese government on free expression, covering topics such as political corruption, fraud in financial markets, the extent of the SARS virus outbreak in 2003, and the death toll of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan. In 2010, Hu founded Caixin Media, which uses a variety of multimedia platforms to focus on financial and business news from China. Among her many honors, Hu was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2014, the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism in 2012, and the Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University in 2007. She was listed among the Top 100 Influential People of 2011 by Time magazine. Hu is a member of the Board of Visitors of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University. She received her bachelor's degree from Renmin University and her executive master of business administration degree from Fordham University/Peking University.

Rusticated at 16 during the Cultural Revolution and assigned at 18 to a remote hospital, at the age of 29 she launched a career in investigative journalism that has expanded the boundaries of free expression in China. From Tiananmen Square to the SARS outbreak, from stock-market manipulation to government malpractice, she has pressed for accountability with a balance of daring and deftness that has kept her in the forefront of her field while earning the respect of the leaders of the institutions she exposes. She is now head of her own media company, a Forbes “Power Woman” who is a powerful advocate for transparency and truth.


Robert Rivers Jr., Doctor of Humanities

Robert Rivers Jr. is a retired vascular surgeon and former Princeton University trustee. He was born in Princeton and entered the University in 1949, graduating as a member of the Class of 1953 with a degree in biology. He attended Harvard Medical School, served in the U.S. Navy, and joined the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, where he was a professor of clinical surgery and associate dean for minority affairs. He has held numerous roles with medical organizations and has received many honors for his professional and civic work. Rivers was one of three African American students at Princeton in his class. He and his family have deep ties to the town and University. In 2008, Rivers addressed Princeton students at the third annual Pan-African Graduation in Richardson Auditorium. He told the graduating seniors that his father had worked at Tiger Inn, his mother was a live-in maid for a professor's family, and his brother was a coach for the football and baseball teams. In 1969, Rivers was elected to his first term as University trustee — the first African American in that role — followed by a second term in 1973. Rivers has three sons who graduated from Princeton in the 1980s. Rivers received his A.B. from Princeton and his M.D. from Harvard Medical School.

He is a true Princeton pioneer. His grandfather planted the first elms along Washington Road. His father worked at Tiger Inn and as a dormitory janitor; his mother cared for a professor’s family. In 1949 he became one of the first African American students admitted to Princeton, and in 1969 he became the first African American elected by the Board to serve as a Trustee. A distinguished surgeon and a mentor and role model for generations of students and alumni, he paved the way toward a University increasingly committed to diversity and inclusion, and he did it with dignity, grace, integrity and a lifelong devotion to this University's highest values.


Bryan Stevenson, Doctor of Laws

Bryan Stevenson is a public-interest lawyer who helps the poor and incarcerated. He has been representing capital defendants and death row prisoners in the Deep South since 1985, when he worked with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. In 1989, he founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), an Alabama-based nonprofit organization that focuses on social justice and human rights in the context of criminal justice reform. Stevenson serves as executive director of EJI, and he and his staff have successfully argued several cases before the United States Supreme Court, including winning a ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. Since 1998, Stevenson has been a professor of clinical law at New York University School of Law. He is the author of the 2015 book "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption." Among his numerous honors, he has received a MacArthur Fellowship, the Olaf Palme Prize for international human rights, and awards from the National Association of Public Interest Lawyers, the American College of Trial Lawyers and the National Lawyers Guild. In 2014, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Stevenson received a bachelor's degree from Eastern College, an M.P.P. from the Kennedy School of Government and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Many doors were open to this gifted graduate of Harvard’s Law and Kennedy schools, but he chose, instead, to unlock doors for others. As founding executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, he has fought to instill fairness and humanity in our nation’s criminal justice system, securing relief for children in adult prisons, inmates on death row, and those who have been blighted by wrongful conviction and disproportionate sentencing. From the courtroom to the classroom, he has challenged his fellow citizens to confront larger questions of race and poverty and to demand just mercy for all.


Froma Zeitlin, Doctor of Humane Letters

Froma Zeitlin, the Ewing Professor of Greek Language and Literature, Emeritus, joined Princeton's faculty in 1976 and retired in 2010. She also is a professor of classics and comparative literature, emeritus. Zeitlin founded the Program in Judaic Studies in 1996, and directed it until 2005. She is a specialist in Greek literature from Homer to Late Antiquity, with a particular focus on epic drama and prose fiction. She also focuses on gender criticism and the relations between art and text in the context of visual culture in antiquity. Zeitlin is the author of "Under the Sign of the Shield: Semiotics and Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes" and "Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek Literature." She has edited and translated several other books. In 1995, Zeitlin received Princeton's Howard T. Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities. She received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies, and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001. She received her B.A. from Radcliffe College and her Ph.D. from Columbia University. 

She is her generation's leading scholar of ancient Greek literature, putting her unmistakable stamp on a whole millennium’s worth of works fundamental to the Western canon. Her pioneering engagements with post-war French thought, anthropology, feminist theory and performance studies have fundamentally changed how we understand the past, but she is also very much of the moment, tirelessly employing her exquisite cultural sensibilities to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten. The author of a collection of brilliant essays titled "Playing the Other," she instructs and delights students, colleagues and admirers the world over simply by playing her stylish self. L'Chaim!