Commencement speaker and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was among nine recipients of honorary degrees at the morning exercises of the Commencement ceremony Thursday.
Sirleaf, who University President Drew G. Faust described as “an unblinking beacon of hope” for Liberia, received a Doctor of Laws degree.
Internet pioneer and MIT professor Timothy Berners-Lee—described by Faust as an “ingenious guru of a global village”—was awarded a Doctor of Science degree.
James R. Houghton, who is a former senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation, received a Doctor of Laws degree after being described by Faust as “a fellow fiercely committed to his university’s care.”
Art critic Rosalind Krauss received a Doctor of Arts degree for “[recasting] the lens through which we see art,” according to Faust.
Former United States Surgeon General David Satcher received a Doctor of Science degree for [confronting] controversial health concerns with candor and compassion,” Faust said.
Professor of Science Emeritus and former Currier Housemaster Dudley R. Herschbach received a Doctor of Science degree for his service to the University.
Herschbach—who won a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1986—was described by Provost Steven E. Hyman as “chemistry’s equivalent of a rock star.”
Historian John Greville Agard J.G.A. Pocock—who, as Hyman said, has been described by historian Colin Kidd as “the Gandalf of the historical profession”—received a Doctor of Laws degree.
Opera singer Plácido Domingo—described by Faust as “a tenor for the ages”—was awarded a Doctor of Music degree.
Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg received a Doctor of Laws degree after being described by Faust as an “advocate extraordinaire.”
In an unexpected moment as Ginsburg stood to receive her degree, Domingo sung out Ginsburg’s name in a resounding line from the opera Aida.
After hugging Domingo, Ginsburg sat back down, smiling widely.
During the afternoon exercises, Faust conferred a special posthumous bachelor’s degree on Joel Iacoomes of the Wampanoag tribe, who died shortly before he would have graduated with the Class of 1665.
Along with Bernard Coombs—one of Iaccomes’ descendents, Wampanoag tribe member Tiffany L. Smalley ’11 received Iaccomes’ special degree.
Faust said that Iacoomes’ degree reaffirms “ideas fundamental to the origin of Harvard: a commitment to the diversity of students, commitment to the communities in which the college was founded, and a commitment to the power of an education to transform lives.”
Iacoomes’ degree comes six years after Patrik Johansson, who graduated from School of Public Health in 2001, petitioned Harvard to confer a posthumous degree on Iacoomes.
At that time, Harvard denied the request on the grounds that “it was not appropriate” to grant Iacoomes a degree because it was unclear whether Iacoomes had completed a Greek and Latin oral exam required for graduation in 1665 before he died.
-Rebecca D. Robbins can be reached at email@example.com.