Honorary Degrees, May 2013
Joseph R. Biden, Jr. , Commencement Speaker 2013
47th Vice President of the United States
One of America’s most senior statesmen with vast experience in foreign affairs, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., is the 47th Vice President of the United States. He advises President Obama on national and international issues and has represented the country in every region of the world. As Vice President, Mr. Biden has led the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, headed a task force to develop a comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence, and negotiated bipartisan agreements on high-profile legislation that prevented middle-class taxes from rising in 2010, addressed the debt-ceiling crisis in 2011, and averted the so-called “fiscal cliff” in 2012. As part of his continued efforts to raise the living standards of middle-class Americans across the country, Vice President Biden has also focused on the issues of college affordability and bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, key priorities of the Administration. In the area of foreign policy, Mr. Biden has helped secure Senate approval of a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, played a lead role in responsibly ending the war in Iraq, and supported the administration’s efforts to reestablish leadership in the Asia Pacific. Mr. Biden, who holds degrees from the University of Delaware and Syracuse University College of Law, began his government service as a member of the New Castle County (Delaware) Council in 1970. Two years later, at age 29, he became one of the youngest people ever elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until becoming vice president in 2009. As the chairman or ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee for 17 years, Mr. Biden was widely recognized for his work on criminal justice legislation, including his part in drafting the landmark 1994 Crime Bill and authoring the Violence Against Women Act. As the chairman or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Biden also played a pivotal role in shaping U.S. foreign policy, working at the forefront of legislation related to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, post-Cold War Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
Mr. Biden is the father of two Penn graduates and the grandfather of a current Penn student.
Vice President Biden will receive the honorary Doctor of Laws.
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy
and the University Center for Human Values,
Kwame Anthony Appiah is a widely published philosopher and cultural theorist whose work on race, identity, politics, and moral philosophy has helped change our understanding of human behavior. His wide-ranging writings, which have been translated into more than 10 languages, include Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers; The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen; In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture; Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race (with President Amy Gutmann), and the Dictionary of Global Culture (co-edited with Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.). Professor Appiah, who has been called “one of the most relevant philosophers today” by the New York Times Book Review, is the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. He is also involved with Princeton’s Center for African American Studies, its programs in African studies and translation studies, and its departments of comparative literature and politics. Before joining the Princeton faculty in 2002, Professor Appiah taught philosophy and African-American studies at Yale, Cornell, Duke, and Harvard universities. Named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers in 2010, Professor Appiah has been honored with the National Humanities Medal presented by President Barack Obama in 2012, the Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize of Brandeis University, the 2007 Arthur Ross Award of the Council on Foreign Relations, numerous honorary degrees, induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. Professor Appiah, who holds bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in philosophy from Cambridge University’s Clare College, has served as President of the PEN American Center, President of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, Chair of the American Council of Learned Societies, and a board member of the National Humanities Center, the American Academy in Berlin, Ashesi University College in Accra, Ghana, the United Nations Democracy Fund, and the National Museum for African Art.
Professor Appiah will receive the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Ursula M. Burns
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Xerox Corporation;
Vice Chair, President Obama's Export Council
As the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Xerox Corporation, Ursula M. Burns is the first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 corporation. Having risen steadily through the company’s ranks since joining Xerox as an intern in 1980, Ms. Burns played significant roles in corporate strategic services and product development and planning before being named President in 2007, Chief Executive Officer in 2009, and Chairman in 2010. Over the course of three decades, Ms. Burns has successfully striven to maintain the company’s relevance in the constantly changing business environment. She helped drive the company’s evolution from a photocopying leader in the 1980s to a pacesetter in digital document technologies in the 2000s, and in 2009 she spearheaded its transformation into a business services provider by acquiring Affiliated Computer Services, the largest acquisition in Xerox history. She now leads 140,000 people serving clients in more than 160 countries. Ms. Burns, who is ensconced on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women, is a director of American Express, Boston Scientific, the National Association of Manufacturers, and Exxon Mobil. In March 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed her vice chair of the President’s Export Council. She is a founding director of Change the Equation, which focuses on improving the U.S. education system in science, technology, engineering, and math, and has served on boards or committees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Rochester, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the National Academy Foundation, and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Ms. Burns earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from New York University’s Polytechnic Institute and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University. She holds honorary degrees from several universities.
Ms. Burns will receive the honorary Doctor of Laws.
Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Nigeria
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a renowned development economist and economic reformer. In her current role as Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is responsible for managing the finances of Africa’s most populous nation and one of the world’s fastest growing economies. From December 2007 to August 2011, she was Managing Director of the World Bank where she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. She also spearheaded initiatives to assist low-income countries during the food crisis and later the financial crisis, and chaired the raising $49.3 billion in grants and low-interest credit for the world’s poorest nations.
Before that, she was Nigeria’s Finance minister for three years and was briefly Minister of Foreign Affairs. As Minister of Finance, she spearheaded the negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that led to the wiping out of US$30 billion of Nigeria’s debt. Prior to her government service, she had spent 21 years at the World Bank, rising to the position of Vice President and Corporate Secretary.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has served on numerous boards and advisory groups, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the African Institutes of Science and Technology, the Center for Global Development, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the Danish-government-led Commission on Africa. In 2011 and 2012 she was named one of the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes, and one of 100 Top Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy. A Distinguished Fellow of the Brookings Institution, she is also the author of several books and articles, including Reforming the UnReformable: Lessons from Nigeria, recently released from MIT Press.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at Harvard University and a Ph.D. in regional economics and development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has received numerous awards, including honorary doctorates from Brown University and Trinity College Dublin, the President of the Italian Republic Gold Medal Award by the Pio Manzu Centre, and the Global Leadership Award from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will receive the honorary Doctor of Laws.
Samuel H. Preston
Professor of Sociology, Emeritus, and
Former Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania
Samuel H. Preston, Professor of Sociology, is one of the world's foremost demographers. He is responsible for the “Preston curve” which is widely used to identify factors responsible for gains in life expectancy. He has also produced seminal work on divorce rates, urban growth, tobacco's toll on U.S. mortality, and the population of African-Americans has influenced the formulation of public policy in this country and internationally. The author of 16 books and over 100 scholarly articles and book chapters, Professor Preston advises the U.S. government on the reform of the Social Security Administration and the conduct of the U.S. Census, is a frequent advisor on population matters at the United Nations, and is a past president of the Population Association of America. For the last three decades, he has been a Penn professor of sociology and has served the University in numerous leadership roles, including Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences from 1998-2004, in which capacity he strengthened the School's financial base and took it to new heights academically, departmental chair, Director of the Population Studies Center, and Director of the Population Aging Research Center. In addition, Professor Preston has chaired approximately 60 doctoral dissertation committees and has served on many more. In recognition of his many contributions to Penn, a professorship has been endowed in his name. The only SAS faculty member in recent memory to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences, its Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, Professor Preston also has been honored with the Olivia Schieffelin Nordberg Award from the Population Council and both the Mindel Sheps Award and the Irene B. Taeuber awards from the Population Association of America. Before coming to Penn in 1979, Professor Preston was a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Washington, Seattle, and served in the United Nations Population Division. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics at Amherst College and a Ph.D. in economics at Princeton University.
Professor Preston will receive the honorary Doctor of Sciences.
Ellen Mosley-Thompson & Lonnie G. Thompson
Distinguished University Professors, Ohio State University;
Globally recognized paleoclimatologists and research scientists
As preeminent experts on ice core analysis, Ellen Mosley-Thompson and Lonnie G. Thompson have shed new light on our planet's past and its future. They have used ice cores collected from glaciers on six continents over 40 years to reconstruct a detailed history of Earth's climate changes over several millennia and thereby advanced our understanding of global-scale climatic patterns including tropical monsoons and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Professors Mosley-Thompson and Thompson were among the first scientists to record and publicize the widespread melting of high mountain glaciers. Their data are considered to be among the most convincing evidence that Earth's increasing temperatures result largely from human activity. For their contributions, they have been elected as Members of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society and as Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union. Their numerous honors include the Franklin Institute's Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth and Environmental Science, the Dan David Prize of the University of Tel Aviv, the Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service and the Roy Chapman Andrews Society's Distinguished Explorer Award, and several honorary degrees. An expert on polar ice sheets who has led fifteen expeditions to Antarctica and Greenland, Professor Mosley-Thompson is a Distinguished University Professor of Geography at The Ohio State University and Director of the Byrd Polar Research Center. Professor Thompson, an expert on tropical and subtropical ice caps and glaciers, has led over 50 research expeditions. He is a University Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences at Ohio State and a senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center. A National Medal of Science winner, he was elected as a foreign member of the Chinese National Academy of Sciences. Both hold bachelor's degrees from Marshall University and doctorates from Ohio State, where they have spent their entire careers.
Professors Mosley-Thompson and Thompson will receive an honorary Doctor of Sciences.
James Edward West
Research Professor, Johns Hopkins University;
Co-inventor of the Foil Electret Microphone
James Edward West is a path-breaking electrical engineer. His co-invention of the electret microphone revolutionized the telephone and recording industries in the twentieth century and remains the dominant technology for the microphones of today. Professor West developed the tiny, permanently charged, electret microphone in the 1960s with Gerhard Sessler, his collaborator at Bell Laboratories. Five decades later, their technology is still used in 90 percent of the billions of microphones produced for products such as cellular telephones, hearing aids, baby monitors, video recorders, and professional equipment. Professor West joined Bell Laboratories as an intern while pursuing a bachelor's degree in physics at Temple University in the 1950s. He later earned a full-time position on Bell Lab's research team, which he held until his retirement in 2001 as a Bell Labs Fellow. Two years later, he embarked on an academic career, becoming a research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Johns Hopkins University's Whiting School of Engineering, where he has explored potential medical applications for his work. Widely regarded throughout his career for his ability to bring people together for the improvement of science and technology, Professor West has chaired the Whiting School's Divisional Diversity Council, served on the National Academy of Engineering's Committee on Diversity in the Engineering Workforce, and co-founded the Association of Black Lab Employees. The holder of over 50 United States patents and more than 200 foreign patents, Professor West has authored more than 150 scientific papers on acoustics, solid-state physics, and material science. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, an inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, a lifetime fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a fellow and past president of the Acoustical Society of America, and a recipient of the National Medal of Technology, the Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering from the Franklin Institute, the Golden Torch Award from the National Society of Black Engineers, the Silver and Gold Medals in Engineering Acoustics from the Acoustical Society of America, the Ronald H. Brown American Innovator Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce, and several honorary degrees.
Professor West will receive the honorary Doctor of Sciences.