Lehrer to get honorary degree


The noted journalist, along with four others, will be recognized at Commencement in May.




Five people will receive honorary degrees at the Commencement ceremony on May 13, including Commencement speaker and acclaimed journalist Jim Lehrer.

Other recipients include Joan Ganz Cooney, a television producer, historian Eric Hobsbawm, engineer Irwin Jacobs -- also the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Qualcomm -- and scientist Richard Smalley.

"We're looking for individuals who have made extraordinary contributions," University Secretary Leslie Kruhly said. "We're not talking about one or two isolated events that made them famous. We're looking for someone with a sustained lifetime of achievement whose excellence cannot be questioned."

Ganz Cooney is one such person. She pioneered television as an educational medium for children. This year's graduates probably benefited from her life's work as a co-founder of the Children's Television Workshop -- since renamed the Sesame Workshop -- introducing a whole generation of children to Sesame Street.

Among her many awards are an induction into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 and an induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1998.

Hobsbawm will also march onto Franklin Field this May. Kruhly said she looks forward to meeting Hobsbawm, a historian who lived in Berlin at the time of Adolf Hitler's rise to power and then served in the British Army from 1940 to 1946.

"To think of him and the world events that he's experienced, that makes him a very compelling candidate," Kruhly said.

Hobsbawm has written many influential works including a four-volume series on the modern world starting with the events of 1789 and ending with 1991. He has 16 honorary degrees from universities and colleges in nine countries, and his writings have been translated into 37 languages.

Kruhly said representatives from the School of Engineering and Applied Science were especially persuasive in their support of Jacobs, an engineer who has made the transition from academia to the corporate world with his work on digital wireless communication technology.

Under the leadership of Jacobs, Qualcomm -- which he co-founded in 1985 -- has been identified as a Fortune 500 company.

Kruhly stressed that the University tries to provide a balance in terms of the fields represented by the honorary degree recipients, trying to avoid having two people from one field.

But this year another scientist, Smalley, will join Jacobs on stage. Although they share the same general field, Smalley has distinguished himself in chemical physics as opposed to Jacobs, who specializes in engineering.

"Within the world of science, they have sufficiently distinct patterns of activity," Kruhly said. "It was not a concern for us."

Smalley's research led to the discovery of a third elemental form of carbon. He helped pioneer supersonic beam laser spectroscopy, which has become one of the most powerful techniques in chemical physics. A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Smalley received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

These four will join Lehrer, who in addition to receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, will also deliver the 246th Commencement address.

Best known for his role as host on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, now The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Lehrer has moderated nine presidential debates in the last four elections. He is also the author of 12 novels, two memoirs and three plays.

The selection of honorary degree recipients is a lengthy process. Faculty members nominate individuals whom they deem worthy of an honorary degree. The University Council on Academic Degrees then considers these nominations and makes further suggestions, which go to a second committee comprised of approximately six University Trustees with University President Judith Rodin as an ex officio member. Within this committee, the final choices are made.

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