Special Feature: Commencement 2013

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Four Greats to Receive Honorary Degrees

Honored for leadership in arts, communication studies, American literature and mathematics

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April 25, 2013 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

EVANSTON, Ill. – Northwestern University will award honorary degrees to four distinguished individuals -- including keynote speaker Mikhail Baryshnikov -- at the University’s 155th commencement ceremony.

Northwestern’s commencement ceremony will be held at 9:30 a.m. Friday, June 21, at the University’s Ryan Field.

Mikhail Baryshnikov is founder and artistic director of the Baryshnikov Arts Center, a critically acclaimed film, television and theater actor, and one of the world’s greatest dancers. The other three honorees are E. L. (Edgar Lawrence) Doctorow, one of America’s foremost living novelists; Michael Hopkins, a Northwestern alumnus who has been a transformative figure in mathematics; and Elihu Katz, a pioneer of quantitative and qualitative studies of mass communication and its effects.  

More detailed biographical sketches of the honorary degree recipients follow:

Mikhail Baryshnikov, a native of Riga, Latvia, began studying ballet at the age of nine. As a teenager, he moved to Leningrad where he entered the Vaganova Choreographic School, graduating from student to principal dancer of the Kirov Ballet in 1969. In 1974, he left the Soviet Union to dance with major ballet companies around the world, including the New York City Ballet, where he worked with world-renowned choreographers, including George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. In 1980 he began a 10-year tenure as artistic director of American Ballet Theatre, nurturing a new generation of dancers and choreographers. From 1990 to 2002, Baryshnikov was director and dancer with the White Oak Dance Project, which he co-founded with choreographer Mark Morris. In 2005, he opened the Baryshnikov Arts Center, a creative home for local and international artists to develop and present work. He has starred in several films, and has worked in television and on Broadway, earning Oscar and Tony nominations. Among Baryshnikov’s many awards are the Kennedy Center Honors, the National Medal of Honor, the Commonwealth Award, the Chubb Fellowship, the Jerome Robbins Award and the 2012 Vilcek Award. In 2010 he was given the rank of Officer of the French Legion of Honor.

E. L. (Edgar Lawrence) Doctorow, the Lewis and Loretta Glucksman Professor of American and English Letters at New York University, occupies a central position in the history of American literature. One of America’s foremost living novelists, Doctorow is one of the great writers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. His work long has been celebrated for its vivid evocations of American life. His numerous awards include the National Book Award, two PEN/Faulkner Awards and three National Book Critics Circle Awards. His novels “Billy Bathgate” (1989) and “The March” (2005) were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and his award-winning novel “Ragtime” (1975) was adapted for the Broadway musical theater. His novel “Billy Bathgate” received the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and, in 1988, former President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Humanities Medal. In 2012, he received the PEN Saul Bellow Award given to a writer “whose body of work places him in the highest rank of American literature.” He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Michael J. Hopkins, professor of mathematics at Harvard University, is a leading figure in mathematics. His work has fundamentally transformed the field of algebraic topology, pioneered the application of homotopy theory to a range of areas in mathematics and created new areas of study. Hopkins received his B.A. (1979) and Ph.D. (1984) in mathematics from Northwestern University. He is regarded as the most important mathematician trained at Northwestern. Hopkins also earned a D.Phil. (1984) from Oxford University as a result of his work there as a Rhodes Scholar. He became a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2010, and he received the Academy’s highly prestigious Award in Mathematics in 2012. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. In 2001, he was awarded the American Mathematical Society’s Oswald Veblen Prize in Geometry. Before joining Harvard’s faculty in 2005, Hopkins held professorships at the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Elihu Katz, Distinguished Trustee Professor of Communication in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, has been at the forefront of theory and research in communication and media studies for more than 60 years. Regarded as a pioneer of quantitative and qualitative studies of mass communication and its effects, Katz has been influential not only in communication studies but also in sociology, political science, business and marketing, and policy studies. His first book, “Personal Influence” (1956), co-authored with mentor Paul Lazarsfeld, remains one of the most cited works in political communication nearly six decades after its publication. Katz served as founding director of Israel Television (1968-69) and as principal consultant to the BBC in the 1970s. Recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize (1989) and seven honorary doctorates, Katz is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is emeritus professor of communications and sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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