Princeton University awarded honorary degrees during Commencement exercises Tuesday, May 24, to five individuals for their contributions to civil rights, higher education, healthcare, neuroscience and business.
Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber awarded degrees to Fred David Gray, senior partner in the Tuskegee, Alabama-based law firm of Gray, Langford, Sapp, McGowan, Gray, Gray & Nathanson; Amy Gutmann, U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany; Brent Henry, a member of the law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo P.C.; Eve Marder, the Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfeld University Professor of Biology at Brandeis University; and Frederick W. Smith, founder, chairman and CEO of FedEx Corporation.
The following is biographical information on the recipients and the official citations.
Fred David Gray, Doctor of Laws
Fred David Gray is a nationally recognized civil rights attorney and former Alabama legislator. Practicing law since 1954, he is senior partner in the Tuskegee, Alabama-based law firm of Gray, Langford, Sapp, McGowan, Gray, Gray & Nathanson. Gray is a champion for equality and justice and has provided legal counsel for landmark civil rights cases. He was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s first civil rights attorney and represented Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks in 1955 after their arrests for refusing to give up their seats on a Montgomery city bus. He was counsel in preserving and protecting the rights of persons involved in the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study. He later helped establish the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center, which serves as an educational center and as a memorial to the study participants. Gray represented many other clients in significant civil rights cases, including actions that integrated all state institutions of higher education in Alabama and most of its elementary and secondary schools. Gray also served in the Alabama State Legislature from 1970 to 1974, becoming one of the first two African American legislators in the state since the Reconstruction era. He was the first person of color elected as president of the Alabama Bar Association, serving from 2002 to 2003. His professional affiliations also include the National Bar Association, the National Association of College and University Attorneys, and the American Bar Association, which gave him its Spirit of Excellence Award. Gray is a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He received his bachelor's degree from Alabama State College for Negroes/Alabama State University and his L.L.B. from Case Western Reserve University.
He vowed as a law student in the 1950s to “destroy everything segregated” and became, according to his client Martin Luther King Jr., “the chief counsel for the protest movement.” At so many seminal moments of our civil rights era, he was the lawyer: for Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin, when they refused relegation to the segregated section of the bus; for students unlawfully denied admission to the University of Alabama; for victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. His legacy includes four landmark decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court; hundreds of desegregated schools; and generations of lawyers, activists and citizens who have heeded his call to “finish the unfinished tasks of destroying discrimination and segregation wherever found.”
Amy Gutmann, Doctor of Laws
Amy Gutmann is the U.S. Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. From 2004 to February 2022, she served as president of the University of Pennsylvania, making her the longest-serving president in the history of the university. A leading scholar in democratic political theory and the ethics of public life, Gutmann also served as the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science in the School of Arts and Sciences at Penn with secondary appointments in Philosophy, the Annenberg School for Communication and the Graduate School of Education. Gutmann was provost of Princeton University from 2001 to 2004, and she served as Princeton’s Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor and the founding director of the University Center for Human Values. First in her family to graduate from college, Gutmann made educational access a top priority, more than doubling the number of students from low-income and first-generation college families at Penn. Named by Fortune in 2018 as one of the “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders,” she has served as chair of the Association of American Universities and the U.S. Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. She was a founding member of the Global Colloquium of University Presidents and has served on the boards of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Vanguard Corporation and the National Constitutional Center in Philadelphia, among many other leadership and service roles. Gutmann is a member of the American Philosophical Society, as well as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education. She received her bachelor's degree from Radcliffe College, her M.S. from the London School of Economics and her Ph.D. from Harvard University.
The daughter of a German Jewish refugee and the first in her family to graduate from college, she went on to become the longest-serving president in the history of the University of Pennsylvania and, as of earlier this year, the first woman to serve as United States Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. She is one of the world’s preeminent political philosophers, known for her groundbreaking work on democratic political theory and the ethics of public life. A highly regarded leader in collegiate education, she is proudly claimed by Princeton University as its former provost and the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and the University Center for Human Values, Emerita. Whether as a scholar, a university leader, or a diplomat, she has dedicated her life to expanding access to education, advancing democracy and serving the nation.
Brent Henry ’69, Doctor of Laws
Brent Henry is an attorney and leader in the healthcare industry, with more than 30 years of experience handling complex legal, business and regulatory issues. He currently is a member of the law firm Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo P.C. Previously, he was vice president and general counsel of Partners HealthCare, the largest hospital network in New England. In that capacity, Henry oversaw the legal, internal audit, corporate compliance and business ethics departments. He also previously was vice president and general counsel at MedStar Health, a hospital system serving the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area. While at MedStar, Henry taught health care law at both Howard University and the University of Maryland. In addition, he has served as deputy administrator of the New York City Human Resources Administration, where he directed the NYC Medicaid program. He is a past president of the National Health Lawyers Association and has been recognized by numerous professional organizations, including the American Bar Association, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, and the New England Legal Foundation. A graduate of Princeton’s Class of 1969, Henry served as one of Princeton’s first two Young Alumni Trustees from 1969-1973 and as a Charter Trustee from 1999-2009 and 2010-2020, making him one of the longest-serving trustees in the history of the University. In 2011, he was elected vice chair of the Board of Trustees and from 2015-2016 he chaired the special committee on Woodrow Wilson’s legacy. He also is a past chair of the Princeton Alumni Association. His current service includes membership on the boards for the Fiduciary Trust Company and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He received his bachelor's degree from Princeton University in 1969 and his M.A and J.D. from Yale University.
A powerful proponent for change at Princeton, he launched his dedicated efforts to enhance campus life as an undergraduate leader of the Association of Black Collegians in the late 1960s. Upon graduating, he was elected to serve his alma mater as one of the first two Young Alumni Trustees. What ensued was a lifetime investment of his immeasurable talents to Old Nassau, which he impressively balanced with his decades-long career as one of the nation’s leading health care professionals. In both his legal career and his volunteer leadership roles, he has exhibited an unparalleled commitment to equity, integrity and justice. His passionate and tireless efforts to make Princeton more diverse, more inclusive and more accessible to people from all backgrounds helped to transform the University — a legacy that will benefit the lives of Princetonians for generations to come.
Eve Marder, Doctor of Science
Eve Marder, the Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfeld University Professor of Biology at Brandeis University, is a pioneering neuroscientist whose work has profoundly changed the understanding of the human brain by gleaning key findings from the study of the small set of neurons in a crustacean’s stomach. Her research on the nervous system’s basic functions has been recognized with top awards, including the Gruber Neuroscience Prize and the Kavli Prize. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, she was appointed to the National Institutes of Health working group for President Obama’s BRAIN initiative. She is also a fellow of the Biophysical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Marder also served as president of the Society for Neuroscience in 2008. Her other recognitions include the Miriam Salpeter Memorial Award for Women in Neuroscience, the W.F. Gerard Prize from the Society for Neuroscience, the George A. Miller Award from the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, the Karl Spencer Lashley Prize from the American Philosophical Society and the Neuroscience Award from the National Academy of Science. Marder started one of the first undergraduate neuroscience programs in the United States and has mentored countless students and early-career researchers, advocating for women, diversity and international representation. She received her bachelor's degree from Brandeis University and her Ph.D. from University of California, San Diego.
For the past forty years, her patient study of the neurons in a lobster’s belly has helped shed light on some of the brain’s deepest mysteries. Under her watchful eye, this tiny nervous system has revealed general principles about neural circuits, their complexity, their plasticity and their ability to adapt to changing environments. She has pioneered methods for observation and analysis, allowing data to drive her questions and intuition to guide her thinking. This extraordinary neuroscientist has helped shape the field itself, as a mentor to generations of researchers, as an advocate for women’s voices in science and as a contributor to national initiatives aimed at revolutionizing our understanding of the human brain. Still, her greatest joy is in the lab, in the continued quest for knowledge. As she observes, “Peeking into the mysteries of life never gets old.”
Frederick W. Smith, Doctor of Humane Letters
Frederick W. Smith is the founder, chairman and CEO of FedEx Corporation, the world’s leading express transportation provider. Born in Marks, Mississippi, Smith learned to fly a crop duster as a teenager. An experienced pilot by the time he entered Yale University as an undergraduate, Smith wrote an economics term paper that proposed an overnight air courier service. After four years of decorated service in the Marines that included two tours of duty in Vietnam, Smith brought his air courier concept to life with FedEx, which started with a small fleet of jets flying to a handful of cities. Established in 1973 as the air-ground Federal Express network, FedEx has since grown into a $92 billion global enterprise that serves more than 220 countries and territories, handling more than 16.5 million shipments each day. Time magazine named FedEx as one of the 100 most influential companies and Smith has been recognized as a top CEO by Forbes, Barron’s and other leading business publications and organizations. Smith is a trustee for the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a member of both the Business Council and Business Roundtable. He also served as chairman of the U.S.-China Business Council, co-chair of the French-American Business Council and on the boards of several large public companies and charitable organizations. He is a member of the Aviation Hall of Fame and the Business Hall of Fame, among many other honors. Smith announced he will step down as CEO of FedEx in June, becoming executive chairman of the company he founded nearly 50 years ago. He received his bachelor's degree from Yale University.
A Marine Corps veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, he predicted the logistical needs of our modern society and found a way to bring us “The World on Time.” Building on a paper he wrote as an undergraduate at Yale University and inspired by lessons learned in the military, he launched the Federal Express network in 1973. Under his remarkable leadership over the past 50 years, FedEx has been recognized time and again as one of the world’s most influential and admired companies. He inspires others by following his own advice: “Leaders get out in front and stay there by raising the standards by which they judge themselves — and by which they are willing to be judged.”