Katalin Karikó, Rhiannon Giddens, Suzan Shown Harjo (seated),  Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber, Lynn A. Conway, Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones

Princeton awards five honorary degrees

Princeton University awarded five honorary degrees during the 2023 Commencement ceremony. From left: Katalin Karikó, Rhiannon Giddens, Suzan Shown Harjo (seated), Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber, Lynn A. Conway, Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones

Princeton University awarded honorary degrees to the following recipients during the 2023 Commencement ceremony on Tuesday, May 30. 

Lynn A. Conway                         

Doctor of Science

Lynn A. Conway is an innovator of microelectronics chip design whose work has made foundational contributions to computer architecture and engineering. Thousands of computer chip designers have learned their craft from her seminal book, Introduction to VLSI Systems, co-authored with Carver Mead of Caltech. Now professor emerita of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, she began her career at IBM Research in 1964, moving on to work at Memorex Corporation and at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). She also served as assistant director for strategic computing at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). She was a visiting associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT from 1978­–79 and joined the University of Michigan faculty in 1985, also serving as associate dean of the College of Engineering. Conway is a prominent transgender activist and advocate for LGBTQIA rights, particularly in the fields of technology, computer science, and engineering. A fellow of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), she has received the Computer Pioneer Award of the IEEE Computer Society, the IBM Lifetime Achievement Award, and the National Center for Women in Technology Pioneer in Tech Award, among other honors. She holds honorary doctorates from Trinity College, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Victoria, and University of Michigan. She also is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Columbia University (B.S., 1962; M.S.E.E., 1963) 

On the verge of a breakthrough while working at IBM in 1968, the talented young engineer was fired after confiding to supervisors that she was transgender. She successfully rebuilt her career as a computer scientist and helped revolutionize microchip design in the 1980s, leading to high-tech advancements that helped transform society and continue to impact our lives today. After groundbreaking work in industry and government, she taught the next generation of computer scientists as a professor and associate dean of engineering at the University of Michigan. Decades passed before she felt comfortable sharing the discrimination she’d experienced early in her career, becoming a vocal advocate for transgender rights and an inspiration to LGBTQIA scientists worldwide. And in 2020—52 years after her firing—she received a formal apology from IBM, along with the company’s lifetime achievement award for her “pioneering work” in computers.

Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones 

Doctor of Humane Letters

Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones, the Emory L. Ford Professor of Spanish, Emeritus, and professor of Spanish and Portuguese, emeritus, joined the Princeton faculty in 1983. From 1970 to 1982, he taught at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. At Princeton, he directed the Program in Latin American Studies from 1988 to 1994, helping build the program with an interdisciplinary team of faculty members and a thriving community of undergraduates and graduate students. Díaz-Quiñones is an expert in the fields of Latin American cultural and intellectual history and Caribbean poetry. He teaches Latin American literature, with emphasis on the impact of imperial, anticolonial, and diasporic traditions. He is a 2010 recipient of Princeton’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching and received the Pace Center for Civic Engagement’s Faculty Service Award in 2019. Among his many scholarly contributions are his essays and books on the role of imagination in the creation of a collective memory in work by José Martí, Luis Palés Matos, Nilita Vientós, Fernando Ortiz, Pedro Henríquez Ureña, and Lorenzo Homar, among others, and his editions of works by Puerto Rican writers such as Luis Rafael Sánchez, Tomás Blanco, and José Luis González. Díaz-Quiñones received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Hispanic studies from the Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. He completed his graduate philological training at the Universidad Central de Madrid, Spain, with a doctoral dissertation on the uses of the Spanish language in 16th-century colonial archival documents. He has also served as a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers University, the University of Washington, the Universidad de Buenos Aires, the Universidad de Cartagena, Colombia, Swarthmore College, and Hostos Community College of the City University of New York.  

Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras (B.A., 1961; M.A., 1963) 

Universidad Central de Madrid (Ph.D., 1968)

One the most prominent public intellectuals of his time in Caribbean studies, he is also a beloved teacher who has inspired generations of undergraduate and graduate students at Princeton and beyond. A prolific writer and scholar, his essays are classics in the Latin American and Latino/Latina modern literary canon, and his scholarship has played a seminal role in creating literary and social justice networks across the Americas. Two of his regular offerings at Princeton, “Introduction to Spanish American Literature” and “Introduction to Latin American Poetry,” became legendary courses on campus. Under his direction for six years, Princeton’s Program in Latin American Studies became a world-class area studies program and a dynamic community of diverse scholars, writers, artists, and policy experts, along with undergraduate and graduate students. 

Rhiannon Giddens

Doctor of Music

Rhiannon Giddens is a singer, multi-instrumentalist, and composer whose music aims to lift up people who have been previously overlooked in American musical history, and to work toward a more accurate understanding of the country’s musical origins. She is a Grammy Award winner, a 2023 Pulitzer Prize recipient, and a MacArthur Fellow. Giddens draws inspiration from many musical traditions—from blues, jazz, gospel, folk, and classical—and reaches into African American, Celtic, Appalachian, and Italian musical influences, and beyond. Giddens co-founded the Grammy Award-winning group Carolina Chocolate Drops and formed Our Native Daughters with three other Black female banjo players to tell musical stories of historic Black womanhood and survival. She won the 2022 Grammy Award for Best Folk Album for They're Calling Me Home, which she made with her partner, multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. Named artistic director of Silkroad Ensemble in 2020, Giddens now leads the ensemble in its mission to create music that engages difference, sparking cultural collaboration and high-quality arts education. She has performed at national and international festivals and venues, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the White House, the Spoleto Festival, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the Chicago Blues Festival, the Aarhus Festival in Denmark, and the National Folk Festival, among others. Giddens is a television and podcast host, including her new PBS program, My Music with Rhiannon Giddens, and she starred in the television series Nashville. 

Oberlin Conservatory of Music (B.M., 2000)

Named by NPR as one of the 25 Most Influential Women Musicians of the 21st Century, she has dedicated her career to raising up voices that have been overlooked or erased. Discovering the history of African American string bands as a young musician changed the trajectory of her career—as she devoted herself to introducing new audiences to the Black banjoists and fiddlers whose influences have been left out of the historical narratives surrounding folk and country music. As a singer and multi-instrumentalist, her achievements are as diverse as the musical styles she performs. A two-time Grammy Award winner, she is also a Pulitzer Prize recipient and a MacArthur “Genius.” Her roles include artistic director, composer of opera, ballet, and film, children’s book author, and television host and actress. Few contemporary artists have done more to connect overlooked musical traditions of America’s past with music being performed today.

Suzan Shown Harjo

Doctor of Humane Letters

Suzan Shown Harjo’s life’s work has been devoted to promotion and protection of Native Peoples’ ancestors, children, arts, cultures, languages, traditions, lands, and waters. Harjo is Cheyenne/Tsistsistas and Hotvlkvlke Mvskokvlke of Nuyakv, and a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma. Since 1984, she has been president of The Morning Star Institute, a national nonprofit dedicated to securing Native rights through research, advocacy, and stereotype-busting. A 2014 recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, she is a 2022 inductee into the National Native American Hall of Fame; a past executive director of the National Congress of American Indians; a former legislative liaison for the Native American Rights Fund; and a political appointee for legislation in the administration of President Jimmy Carter. She led campaigns for laws on religious freedom, repatriation, and establishment of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), for which she was a founding trustee. Her curation work includes the first exhibition of works by contemporary Native artists shown in the House and Senate Rotundas of the U.S. Capitol (1992), and the first exhibition to tell the story of U.S. treaties and treatymaking with Native Nations (NMAI, 2014-2027). The first Native woman Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth University, she was the first woman awarded the Institute of American Indian Arts’ Honorary Doctorate of Humanities in 2011. Harjo is also the first Native woman elected to both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2020) and the American Philosophical Society (2022). As a journalist and producer in the late 1960s and early 1970s at WBAI-FM in New York, she was the first female drama and literature director at the free-speech station, and she and her husband, Frank Ray Harjo, produced the first national Native news radio show. Her writings are widely published and she is the past news director of the American Indian Press Association; board member of the Native American Journalists Association and UNITY: Journalists of Color; and founding co-chair of The Howard Simons Fund for Indian Journalists.

Institute of American Indian Arts (Honorary Doctorate of Humanities, 2011)

A tireless advocate at the center of almost every Native American legislative, legal, and cultural issue over the past half-century, her work has led to the protection of rights, cultures, and sacred places, and the return of more than one million acres of Indigenous lands. She is an activist, poet, journalist, curator, playwright, and more—and the force behind the decades-long movements to Indigenize Native place names and to remove sports team names and mascots that stereotype or disparage Native Peoples, from high schools to the National Football League. In awarding her the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Barack Obama said it best: “Because of Suzan, more young Native Americans are growing up with pride in their heritage, and with faith in their future. And she has taught all of us that Native values make America stronger.”

Katalin Karikó        

Doctor of Science

Katalin Karikó worked tirelessly with her University of Pennsylvania colleague Dr. Drew Weissman on pioneering research into messenger RNA (mRNA) that provided the foundation for the COVID-19 vaccines developed by BioNTech/Pfizer and by Moderna. She was senior vice president at BioNTech from 2013 to 2022, serving as head of its RNA protein replacement therapies, and she has been an adjunct professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine since 1989. Karikó was born in Hungary and earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Szeged. She began her scientific career at University of Szeged’s Biological Research Center before immigrating to the United States for postdoctoral fellowships at Temple University in Philadelphia, and at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Karikó has been honored with Columbia University’s Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Princess of Asturias Award, and the Vilcek Prize for Excellence in Biotechnology, among other awards. She was also named one of Time magazine’s most influential people of 2021 and named to the 2022 National Inventors Hall of Fame.

University of Szeged (B.S., 1978; Ph.D., 1982)

It was while studying biology in the late 1970s at the University of Szeged in Hungary that she became interested in the molecule that would define her career and help lead to the creation of new vaccines aimed at thwarting a global pandemic. However, it would be decades before she and her University of Pennsylvania research partner, Dr. Drew Weissman, were able to show the infinite potential of that molecule—called messenger RNA. When her lab in Hungary closed, the young scientist immigrated to the United States with only $1,200 hidden inside her daughter’s teddy bear for safekeeping, determined to continue her research on mRNA. After years of professional and personal setbacks, and facing many doubters within the scientific community, she and Weissman were able to create the modified version of mRNA that provided the foundation for a landmark in vaccine development. Her dedication, determination, creativity, and resilience inspire all of us to persevere with our most audacious ideas. 

Commencement 2023