Harvard Law School Professors David B. Wilkins ’77 and C. Adrian Vermeule ’90 were elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the oldest honorary independent research centers in the U.S., earlier this month.
Their class of new members includes 11 other Harvard University affiliates, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton and Melinda F. Gates.
Vermeule said that his election took him by surprise. He was not in his office when the letter was delivered, so when he received a congratulatory email from a friend, he initially did not know to what his friend was referring.
“I had no idea it was in the works,” Vermeule said.
Wilkins said he fondly remembers his first experience at the Academy when, as a young professor, he accompanied a colleague to an event hosted at the Academy.
“The first person to actually map Mount Everest was speaking, and I remember thinking, ‘what an amazing place this is, full of all these people who have done so many great things,’” Wilkins said. “But it never occurred to me in a million years that I would ever be joining this very select fraternity.”
Vermeule said that he is particularly pleased with his election because both of his parents, Emily D. T. Vermeule and Cornelius C. Vermeule III ’47, were members of the Academy. Emily Vermeule, who was a classics professor at Harvard, was elected in 1971; her husband, who was a curator of classical arts at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, was elected in 1973.
Wilkins and Vermeule originally met when Vermeule was enrolled in Wilkins’ civil procedure class as a first year law student.
“He was a star then and he’s just continued to be a superstar ever since,” Wilkins said.
Vermeule said he looks forward to meeting the other members of the Academy, including newly-elected member Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder of Amazon.
“I am dying to meet him, because I have many suggestions for the Amazon website,” Vermeule said jokingly. “I’m just excited to meet him. I buy so many books on Amazon I feel like I’ve subsidized that company to a large degree.”
Both Wilkins and Vermuele said that they are interested in contributing to the Academy’s publication and research efforts.
“I always think that we are the luckiest people in the world, because we get paid to think and teach and write,” Wilkins said. “That’s an honor in and of itself. But on top of that, to be recognized as part of a great tradition that stretches back to the earliest days of our republic...that’s the greatest benefit of all.”
—Staff writer Juliet R. Bailin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.