President Bok this morning conferred honorary degrees on ten men and one woman, including Commencement speaker Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn and A. Bartlett Giamatti, president-elect of Yale University.
The recipients also include President Seretse M. Khama of Botswana and former President Ephraim Katchalski-Katzir of Israel.
The award to Giamatti prompted University administrators to break with tradition, planning to allow the 40-year-old Renaissance scholar to march at the head of the Commencement parade next to Bok.
Two prominent civil rights activists also received degrees this morning at Harvard's 327th Commencement. Vernon E. Jordan, executive director of the National Urban League, and Roy Wilkins, former executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), both received Doctor of Laws citations.
James D. Watson, Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, was awarded a Doctor of Science degree.
The only woman in the group is Helen H. Gilbert '36, former president of the Board of Overseers, who received a Doctor of Laws citation.
The other recipients were: John Cheever, prominent novelist and author of the recent best-seller Falconer; Erik H. Erikson, professor of Human Development Emeritus; and Beumont Newhall '30, photographic historian.
In making one of his rare public appearances to speak at Commencement exercises this afternoon, Solzhenitsyn again enters the glare of publicity that he so obviously finds distasteful. He is a man who wishes to let his books and his other accomplishments speak for themselves. Winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, he was prevented from leaving the Soviet Union because of his staunch anti-Communist beliefs, yet still managed to create a worldwide audience for his views. Solzhenitsyn's criticism of the Soviet government and his advocacy of a return to imperial absolutism earned him expulsion from his home country in 1974, and widespread publicity for his views; his subsequent denunciations of Western nations for what he sees as their failure to act against Soviet abuses of human rights have received less attention, however.
Solzhenitsyn's novels reflect the intense brooding sadness of the Russian people, expressed through events similar to those of his own life. His eight-year stay in Stalinist labor camps, as well as his recovery from cancer, clearly contributed to the characterizations and intense emotional power of Cancer Ward, The First Circle, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and The Gulag Archipelago.
Solzhenitsyn's citation reads: The clear contemporary voice of a great literary tradition, like his heroic predecessors a courageous exponent of the unfettered human spirit.
Giamatti's sensational rise to the presidency of Yale after less than 12 years on the faculty there has made him a figure of national interest almost rivalling that of his predecessor, Kingman Brewster. A professor of English and comparative literature at Yale, he emerged into the spotlight as the likely choice to become that school's 19th president in December, after Henry Rosovsky, Harvard's dean of the Faculty, apparently rejected an offer from the Yale Corporation to assume the post. Well-liked by students, Giamatti served a two-year stint as master of Ezra Stiles College, one of Yale's 12 undergraduate residential colleges. He established his reputation as something of an iconoclast by refusing to allow his portrait to hang in the college's dining hall, alongside those of previous masters. Undergraduates instead hung a moose head there, where it remains to this day, a symbol of Giamatti's endearing non-conformism.
On educational matters, however, he remains a conformist, having gained a reputation as a scrupulous scholar and a demanding, though stimulating, professor. His studies of medieval and Renaissance literature established him as one of the most influential members of Yale's English department. He will take office next month.
Giamatti's citation from Harvard reads: Harvard hails the next leader of her sister institution, and wishes him well. To the travails of university administration, he brings the tenacity of a bulldog and the brio of a Renaissance man.
Khama, who has served as Botswana's president since the country gained independence from Britain in 1966, has earned a reputation as a staunch foe of the apartheid policies of South Africa. Although continuing trade relations with that nation, Botswana has, under Khama's leadership, established itself as one of the foremost opponents of apartheid, frequently sponsoring and supporting United Nations resolutions condemning South Africa and its racial policies.
Khama came to prominence, before Botswana's independence, as leader of the Bechuanaland Democratic Party, and was later the nation's first prime minister and minister of home affairs. Since independence, he has sat as a member of the British House of Lords.