Special Feature: Commencement 2011

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Colbert, Three Others to Receive Honorary Degrees

Northwestern to honor leaders with honorary degrees at 153rd commencement

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May 5, 2011 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University will award honorary degrees to four distinguished individuals at the 153rd commencement exercises Friday, June 17.

They are Stephen Colbert, host and executive producer of the multiple Emmy and Peabody Award–winning “The Colbert Report”; Barbara H. Liskov, Institute Professor and associate provost for faculty equity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she heads the program methodology group in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Jessye Norman, who is highly acclaimed for her wide range of leading roles with the world’s top opera companies; and William A. Schabas, a leading authority on the death penalty and international criminal law, who is a professor of human rights law and director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland Galway.

Biographical sketches of the honorary degree recipients follow:  

Stephen Colbert is a satirist widely known for the outrageous political pundit he plays on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” A 1986 graduate of Northwestern’s School of Communication, Colbert is host and executive producer of the multiple Emmy and Peabody Award–winning series, touted by The New York Times as “one of the best television shows of the year.” At Northwestern, Colbert was planning a serious acting career when he fell in love with improv. Only two years out of college, he ended up with the Second City touring company. Colbert perfected the high-status idiot character at Second City and later through two early series on Comedy Central, “Exit 57” and “Strangers with Candy.” He first gained wide public recognition as one of the characters in Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Colbert’s book “I Am America (And So Can You!)” spent 29 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list, occupying the number one spot for 13 weeks.

Barbara H. Liskov is Institute Professor and associate provost for faculty equity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she heads the program methodology group in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Her achievements in computer science have provided the basis for virtually every software program underpinning today’s society. Named one of the 50 most important women in science by Discover magazine, she has been honored with the Association for Computer Machinery’s A. M. Turing Award and SIGPLAN Programming Languages Lifetime Achievement Award, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ John von Neumann Medal, a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Women Engineers and election to the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Liskov graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Stanford University.

Jessye Norman is one of the most celebrated singers of our time. Acclaimed for performing a wide range of leading roles with the world’s top opera companies, she appears in concert and recital with preeminent orchestras and at prestigious concert halls around the globe. Her numerous recordings have won five Grammy Awards, including a lifetime achievement award. Norman’s many other honors include the U.S. National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honors, election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, membership in the French Legion of Honor and nearly 40 honorary degrees. A board member for numerous nonprofit institutions, she also encourages emerging talent through the Jessye Norman School of the Arts in her hometown of Augusta, Ga. She directed and curated Carnegie Hall’s 2009 “Honor!,” a three-week festival celebrating the African-American contribution to world culture. A graduate of Howard University, Norman holds a master’s degree from the University of Michigan.

William A. Schabas is professor of human rights law and director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Considered the world’s leading authority on the death penalty and international criminal law, Schabas has written more than 300 book chapters and journal articles as well as 22 books, including the seminal “The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law.” He was a member of the 2002–04 Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission and is currently editor-in-chief of Criminal Law Forum, president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars and chair of the board of trustees of the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights. Named an Officer of the Order of Canada and a fellow of the Royal Irish Academy, Schabas earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Toronto and LLB, LLM and LLD from the University of Montreal.

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