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Penn's 2012 Commencement Speaker and . . . Honorary Degree Recipients

March 20, 2012, Volume 58, No. 26

Vice President and Secretary of the University Leslie Laird Kruhly has announced the 2012 honorary degree recipients and the Commencement Speaker. The Office of the University Secretary manages the honorary degree selection process and University Commencement. See pages 4-5 for the bios of this year’s honorary degree recipients. The 256th Commencement ceremony will be streamed live over the Internet. For University of Pennsylvania Commencement information, including historical information about the ceremony, academic regalia, prior speakers and honorary degree recipients see www.upenn.edu/commencement

Geoffrey Canada will be the Commencement Speaker at Penn's 256th Commencement on Monday, May 14, 2012. He and these other individuals will be presented with honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.

Geoffrey Canada: honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
President and Chief Executive Officer for Harlem Children’s Zone

Ruzena Bajcsy:
honorary Doctor of Sciences
Penn Professor Emeritus of Computer Science and Engineering

Akira Endo:
honorary Doctor of Sciences
President of Tokyo’s Biopharm Research Laboratories

Peter D. Lax:
honorary Doctor of Sciences
Founder of modern computational mathematics

John R. Lewis:
honorary Doctor of Laws
US Representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District

David H. Petraeus:
honorary Doctor of Laws
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

Anna Deavere Smith:
honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Founder and Director of Anna Deavere Smith Works


Commencement Speaker

Geoffrey Canada

Geoffrey CanadaGeoffrey Canada is internationally recognized for his pioneering work helping children and families in New York’s Harlem neighborhood and as a passionate advocate for education reform. Mr. Canada and his work were depicted in the award-winning 2010 documentary Waiting for “Superman.”
Since 1990, Mr. Canada has been president and chief executive officer for Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), which serves more than 11,000 children in Central Harlem, providing a comprehensive range of educational, social, and medical services. Services begin for children at birth and follow them through college—aiming to create a safety net so that children in the neighborhood cannot slip through.

The HCZ Project is the model for the Federal Promise Neighborhoods initiative, and President Barack Obama has called HCZ “an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck, anti-poverty effort that is literally saving a generation of children.” Delegations from around the world have visited the Harlem Children’s Zone to learn about its comprehensive model.

Mr. Canada’s own childhood began in the South Bronx in a poor, sometimes violent neighborhood.  Despite these challenges, Mr. Canada succeeded academically, receiving a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College and a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Mr. Canada is the author of two books: Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America and Reaching Up for Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America. In May 2011, Mr. Canada was named to the TIME 100 list of the world’s most influential people.

In 2006, Mr. Canada was selected by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to co-chair the Commission on Economic Opportunity, tasked with formulating a plan to significantly reduce poverty. In 2011, he was appointed to the New York State Governor’s Council of Economic and Fiscal Advisors.

Mr. Canada is the recipient of numerous awards, including the inaugural Heinz Award in 1994, the 2011 William E. Simon Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Social Entrepreneurship, the Heroes of the Year Award from the Robin Hood Foundation, and the 2012 Harvard Graduate School of Education Medal for Education Impact.

Honorary Degree Recipients

Ruzena Bajcsy

R. BajcsyRuzena Bajcsy, Penn professor emeritus of computer science and engineering, is the director emeritus of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the NEC Distinguished Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Berkeley. With a groundbreaking career as an educator and researcher spanning over five decades, Dr. Bajcsy is recognized as one of the most distinguished and innovative leaders in the computer sciences. Dr. Bajcsy’s seminal research has bridged once discrete disciplines and forged new areas of interdisciplinary study in robotics, artificial intelligence, engineering, and cognitive and applied sciences.

In 2002, Discover magazine named Dr. Bajcsy one of the 50 most important women in science. A champion of women and minorities in the sciences, Dr. Bajcsy has served as advisor to more than 50 PhD recipients during her career. Dr. Bajcsy joined Penn’s faculty in 1972 and was the first woman to serve as chair of Penn’s department of computer and information science. In 1978, Dr. Bajcsy founded Penn’s General Robotics and Active Sensory Perception Laboratory (GRASP), one of the world’s premier robotics research centers. Dr. Bajcsy is also the first woman to head the National Science Foundation’s Computer Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate. During her tenure at the NSF, Dr. Bajcsy helped establish the foundation’s Information Technology Research program, which funds innovative, high-impact research supporting infrastructure in information technology. 

Dr. Bajcsy is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Science Institute of Medicine, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2009, Dr. Bajcsy received the Franklin Medal from the Franklin Institute for her innovations in robotics and computer vision, specifically the development of improved robotic perception and the creation of better methods to analyze medical images. A native of Slovakia, Dr. Bajcsy received her master’s and PhD degrees in electrical engineering from Slovak Technical University as well as a PhD in computer science from Stanford University. She is the recipient of honorary degrees from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and Lehigh University.

Akira Endo

Akira EndoAkira Endo is a world-renowned biochemist responsible for one of the most far-reaching medical discoveries of the 20th century. His study of the intriguing properties of fungal statins led to the development of cholesterol-lowering drugs, among the world’s most-prescribed medications today. Dr. Endo’s breakthrough has revolutionized the prevention and treatment of heart disease—the world’s leading cause of death—and has prolonged the lives of millions around the world.

While employed as a research scientist at the Japanese pharmaceutical company Sankyo Co. in the 1970s, he embarked on a revolutionary study of the effects of fungi on cholesterol that led to the development of statin drugs.

Dr. Endo joined Sankyo in 1957 and initially was engaged in a study of fungal enzymes for the production of fruit juice and wine. Raised on a farm in northern Japan, he had long been interested in the properties of fungi and from an early age had been captivated by the work of Nobel laureate Alexander Fleming, who had derived the antibiotic penicillin from mold.
In the late 1960s, during a research fellowship at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, Dr. Endo became fascinated by cholesterol and its newly understood impact on heart disease.

Upon returning to Sankyo, he integrated these seemingly disparate interests through a prodigious undertaking, the examination of 6,000 fungal strains with the purpose of finding one that could combat cholesterol.

Upon leaving Sankyo in 1978, Dr. Endo joined the faculty of Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. In 1997, he founded Tokyo’s Biopharm Research Laboratories of which he is president.

Dr. Endo has been recognized with prestigious awards from around the world, including the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, the Japan Prize, the Heinrich Wieland Prize, the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize, the Massry Prize, and the Toray Science and Technology Prize.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was named a Person of Cultural Merit by the government of Japan.

He holds a bachelor of arts in agriculture and a PhD in biochemistry from Tohoku University.

Peter D. Lax

P. LaxPeter D. Lax is one of the most outstanding mathematicians of our era. His work at the intersection of theoretical and applied mathematics has had important implications for fields as diverse as weather prediction, airplane design, and telecommunications signaling. He is a founder of modern computational mathematics and has made significant contributions to areas such as wave theory and partial differential equations.

A native of Budapest, Dr. Lax fled Hungary as a teen during World War II. Toward the end of the war, he served in the United States Army at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He worked on the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic bomb and gave birth to the nuclear age. Dr. Lax earned a bachelor’s and doctoral degree from New York University, and then returned for a year to Los Alamos, where he continued to serve as a consultant for the next decade. He went on to join NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, a highly regarded research center specializing in mathematics and computer science, where his work yielded notable results such as the Lax Equivalence Theorem, the Lax-Friedrichs Scheme, and the Lax Entropy Condition. Dr. Lax spent the remainder of his career at NYU, where he directed the Courant Institute’s Atomic Energy Commission Computing and Applied Math Center; for eight years he directed the Institute as a whole.

Dr. Lax has received the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize, the Chauvenet Prize, the Norbert Wiener Prize in Applied Mathematics, and the Abel Prize, which is often regarded as the “Nobel Prize of mathematics.”

He has been elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the French Academy of Sciences, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Dr. Lax has served as president of the American Mathematical Society and has served on the National Science Board, which governs the National Science Foundation and advises the US government on policy matters related to science and engineering.

John R. Lewis

J. LewisJohn R. Lewis has served as the US Representative for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District since 1986. A foundational leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, Rep. Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing civil liberties and building what he calls “The Beloved Community” in America. The son of Alabama sharecroppers, Rep. Lewis was a participant in the 1961 Freedom Rides, which challenged segregation at interstate bus terminals across the South. At age 23, Rep. Lewis was a keynote speaker with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the historic March on Washington in August 1963. As a leader and organizer of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Rep. Lewis participated in one of the seminal moments of the Civil Rights Movement—the 1965 march in Selma, Alabama which came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” News broadcasts and photographs of that day, when marchers were attacked by state troopers in a brutal confrontation, helped to hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Rep. Lewis went on to direct the Voter Education Project, which transformed the nation’s political climate by adding nearly four million minorities to the voter rolls. Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, Rep. Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence.

Today Rep. Lewis is Senior Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Party in the House, a member of the House Ways & Means Committee and Chairman of its Subcommittee on Oversight. During his tenure in Congress, Rep. Lewis has continued his outspoken support for social issues and the human rights struggle.

Rep. Lewis received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2011, the Lincoln Medal from the historic Ford’s Theatre, and the sole “Profile in Courage Award” for lifetime achievement ever granted by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

He is a graduate of Fisk University and the American Baptist Theological Seminary.

David H. Petraeus

D. PetraeusGeneral David H. Petraeus (US Army, retired) is the 20th director of the Central Intelligence Agency. As director, he leads the Agency and manages intelligence and counterintelligence, covert operations, liaison with foreign intelligence services, and open source collection programs on behalf of the intelligence community and the US government.

Director Petraeus has dedicated his life to public service, retiring from the US Army in 2011 after a distinguished 37-year career. He is often credited with the evolution of the Army toward a more educated, creative and innovative military force for the 21st century. Director Petraeus last served as commander, NATO International Security Assistance Force and commander, US Forces in Afghanistan. His other four-star commands include the United States Central Command, and the Multi-National Force in Iraq during the surge. In earlier assignments, Director Petraeus commanded Fort Leavenworth and the US Army Combined Arms Center, overseeing the Army’s combat-training centers with responsibility for crafting army doctrine. At this command, Director Petraeus oversaw development of the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which emphasized population protection, civic rebuilding efforts, and the importance of earning trust through transparency. Director Petraeus also simultaneously headed the Multi-National Security Transition Command and the NATO Training Mission in Iraq, both of which he established, and the 101st Airborne Division, including stability operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Director Petraeus also held a number of key staff assignments, including Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Chief of Operations of the UN Force in Haiti.

A graduate of the United States Military Academy, in 1983 Director Petraeus was the top graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College. He subsequently earned MPA and PhD degrees in international relations from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and later served as an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the US Military Academy. 

Director Petraeus’ honors include four awards of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, three awards of the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star Medal for valor, and the State Department Distinguished Service Award.

Anna Deavere Smith

A. SmithAnna Deavere Smith is an actress, author, and playwright who brings together art and social commentary to create a unique form of “documentary theater.” Employing journalistic interview techniques and then relaying her subjects’ words verbatim in performance, Ms. Smith conducts hundreds of interviews to create a play. In her performances on Broadway and around the world, Ms. Smith portrays as many as 46 individuals in the course of a one-woman performance.

The latest play in her series entitled On The Road: A Search for American Character is Let Me Down Easy, a collection of testimonials about life, death, and the care of the ailing body. Let Me Down Easy was recently broadcast on PBS’ Great Performances.

Ms. Smith’s play Twilight: Los Angeles depicted the 1992 Los Angeles riots and received two Tony nominations, an Obie, a Drama Desk Award, and a Special Citation from the New York Drama Critics Circle. Among her other plays are Fires in the Mirror, which examined a 1991 race riot in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Hymn, a collaboration with world-famous choreographer and dancer, Judith Jamison, for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. 

Ms. Smith is the author of Letters to a Young Artist and Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines. A University Professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Ms. Smith’s screen and television credits include The West Wing, Nurse Jackie, The American President, and Rachel Getting Married.

She has also served as Artist in Residence at organizations as varied as MTV Networks, the Center for American Progress, and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Ms. Smith founded and directs Anna Deavere Smith Works: A Place for Artistic Excellence and Social Change, which is dedicated to convening and supporting artists whose work addresses the world’s most pressing challenges.

A MacArthur Fellow, Ms. Smith is a graduate of Beaver College (now Arcadia University) and received her MFA in acting from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. 


Almanac - March 20, 2012, Volume 58, No. 26