Date May 2, 2021
Media Contact

Brown awards six honorary doctorates during Commencement

During its 253rd Commencement on Sunday, May 2, Brown University bestowed honorary degrees on a diverse group of business leaders, educators, scholars and scientists.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — At its 253rd Commencement on Sunday, May 2, Brown University conferred honorary doctorates on six candidates who have achieved great distinction in a variety of fields. The recipients are:

  • Norman Atkins — Education leader and innovator
  • Steven R. Jordan — NFL player and business leader
  • David Lobell — Agricultural ecologist and environmental scientist
  • Maud S. Mandel — College president and history scholar
  • Jessica U. Meir — NASA astronaut and marine biologist
  • Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson — Federal judge and legal pioneer

Honorary degrees are awarded by the Board of Fellows of the Brown Corporation and are conferred by the University president — in English and in Latin — during Commencement exercises on the College Green. Recipients receive prominent recognition at the ceremony but do not serve as Commencement speakers; since its earliest days, Brown has reserved that honor for members of the graduating class.

Included below is the text of the honorary degree citations read during Sunday's ceremonies. Where available, video of acceptance remarks from recipients is included as well. 

Norman Atkins

Doctor of Humane Letters
Full Biographic Notes

Research, collaboration, discovery and innovation. These terms represent the heart of the Brown mission and the core concepts you have applied throughout your distinguished career in education. Your early work in journalism shining light on poverty and social issues plaguing our society led to the founding of the Robin Hood Foundation to support family, social service and after-school programs, and Uncommon Schools, one of the nation’s highest- performing nonprofit charter management organizations. Later, Relay Graduate School of Education was created where through your guidance teachers and school leaders discover and apply best practices to affect student learning and development grounded in research, centered around lived and learned experiences. In recent years you helped found other education organizations including Zearn, a top-ranked digital math program serving millions of students, and through your leadership at Together Education you continue to effect measurable and positive change. In celebrating a life of innovation in teaching and education, we honor you with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.


Steven Russell Jordan

Doctor of Humane Letters
Full Biographic Notes

Your accomplishments as a Brown student-athlete and with the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League have earned you a deserved place next to the legends of the gridiron. As an alumnus, you have spent decades supporting the University and displaying an undying belief in the transformative impact of a self-engineered Brown education. We are inspired by your dedication to your alma mater as a fellow and as a trustee of the Brown Corporation. You competed in an unforgiving sport that demanded the most of your body and mind. Now, as scientific discovery highlights the degenerative impacts of concussions and head trauma in contact sports, your willingness to donate your DNA to research has provided concrete samples to be studied to address the damaging effects of CTE on the brain. For your hall-of-fame athletic career, your commitment to the betterment of others, and your outstanding service to Brown, we are proud to award you with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.


David Brian Lobell

Doctor of Science
Full Biographic Notes

Our world is changing, rapidly. The policy creators and decision makers in power will turn to your research to ensure this world remains sustainable for generations. You serve as a preeminent voice in the field of food security and sustainability and your work makes certain that Earth’s lands and waters sustainably support the nutritional needs of a growing global population. The time is now for change and our choices in this moment in time will determine the fate of our land. Your research – and the data and policy created from that research and discovery – supports the most disadvantaged people on this planet. Your peers and the growing legion of environmental scholars, at Brown, at Stanford, and beyond, are inspired by your efforts to support vulnerable people and places across the globe. For your dedication to our planet, for your influence on the field of environmental science, and for your research surrounding the human-environment interactions that affect us all, we are proud to award you with the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.


Maud S. Mandel

Doctor of Humane Letters
Full Biographic Notes

Respected scholar, educator, and inspirational leader you have dedicated yourself to changing the landscape of higher education. For nearly 20 years you shaped Brown’s growth – first as professor, colleague and mentor, and later as Dean of the College. As steward of the undergraduate experience at Brown you led the establishment of a program to strengthen student learning in core liberal arts competencies, opened the doors of a center to support undocumented, first-generation and low-income students, one of the first of its kind in the country, and took learning beyond the classroom through an internship program and networking platform. As president of Williams College, you imparted your vision early on leading to a major initiative on free inquiry, expression and inclusion underscoring essential values in an environment where we learn and thrive. You constantly imagine and transform while preparing students for a bright future. For your efforts to create a dynamic learning environment, for advancing teaching and research, and for your outstanding service to Brown, we honor you with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.


Jessica Ulrika Meir

Doctor of Science
Full Biographic Notes

You explore, discover, and inspire. Most importantly, you dream. You had an ideation for your future at an early age and followed those interstellar visions toward a path to the stars. Your dreams led you to Brown and your self- created educational pathway guided you to the outer layers of our universe. Our nature is to search within and look above for answers. Your success has allowed us to gaze to the sky and know, without a doubt, that our dreams are possible. As one of NASA’s Artemis program astronauts you will take part in a new era of lunar exploration and could be the first woman to walk on the Moon. The discoveries from your expeditions will result in life-changing innovation, the likes of which we cannot imagine at this time. For inspiring a generation of Brunonians to follow their dreams, no matter how far from home they take us, we are proud to award you with the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.


Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson

Doctor of Laws
Full Biographic Notes

You have devoted your life to public service as a defender of law and of liberty. You hold your office with authority and respect and your courtroom is a place where every party can expect to be heard fairly. Through your efforts to protect the rights of the underserved you have ensured access to the highest quality legal representation. You are a trailblazer, as the first African American woman appointed to Rhode Island’s District Court, Rhode Island’s Superior Court and then to the United State Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. You have also shared your expertise, insight and passion for this University through many years of service as a fellow and trustee of the Brown Corporation. For your contributions to advancing Brown’s mission, your service to Rhode Island and dedication to justice and freedom, we honor you with the degree Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.