Date May 2, 2024
Media Contact

Brown to confer honorary degrees on nine distinguished leaders at Commencement 2024

The University will bestow honorary degrees on a diverse group of business leaders, artists, writers and scholars during its Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 26.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — During its Commencement and Reunion Weekend from May 24 to 26, Brown University will confer honorary doctorates on nine candidates who have achieved great distinction in a variety of fields. The candidates are:

  • Tom Geismar — Graphic design pioneer
  • Claudia Goldin — Nobel Laureate and economist
  • Perry Kasper Granoff — Community leader and champion of the arts
  • Joy Harjo — Twenty-third U.S. poet laureate
  • William Kentridge — Artist
  • Pedro Noguera — Scholar of education and equity
  • Sarah Ruhl — Playwright and poet
  • Jerome C. Vascellaro and Mary Elizabeth Vascellaro (joint degree) — Business leader and champion of Brown, and community leader and champion of Brown alumnae, respectively

Honorary degrees are awarded by the Board of Fellows of the Corporation of Brown University and are conferred by University President Christina H. Paxson during Commencement exercises.

While the Board of Fellows awards the degrees, many of the recipients were recommended by the Advisory Committee on Honorary Degrees, a faculty and student committee that was chaired this year by David Buchta, a faculty member in Brown’s Department of Classics. The committee offered recommendations for leaders who have demonstrated excellence in a variety of fields — and particularly the arts during a year when Brown is celebrating the arts after the Fall 2023 opening of its new cutting-edge Lindemann Performing Arts Center.

Recipients will receive prominent recognition at the University Ceremony on Sunday, May 26, but do not serve as Commencement speakers; since its earliest days, Brown has reserved that honor for members of the graduating class. Additional details on Commencement forums and other events during the weekend will be posted in the coming weeks on Brown’s Commencement website.

Honorary degree candidates

Tom GeismarTom Geismar
Doctor of Fine Arts
Graphic design pioneer

Tom Geismar is a pioneering graphic designer and creator of some of the most recognizable logos in the nation.

Since founding their design firm in 1957, Geismar and his design partner, Ivan Chermayeff, have been highly influential graphic designers in the U.S. Geismar has created hundreds of timeless trademarks and graphic identities, including the multi-headed PBS logo, the New York University torch, the yellow National Geographic frame and the red-and-blue Mobil logo. Geismar has also applied his talents to exhibition design, including work for the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, the U.S. Pavilion at the 1970 World Exposition in Japan and the Sigmund Freud exhibition at the Library of Congress.

Among many recognitions, he has received a Presidential Design Award for leading a program to establish a national system of standardized transportation symbols, and an American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal. In 2014, he and Chermayeff were awarded the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Geismar earned a bachelor’s degree from Brown in 1953 as he studied concurrently at the Rhode Island School of Design, decades before there was an established dual-degree program. He also holds a master of fine arts from Yale University.

Claudia GoldinClaudia Goldin
Doctor of Humane Letters
Nobel Laureate and economist

Winner of the 2023 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, Claudia Goldin is the Henry Lee Professor of Economics and the Lee and Ezpeleta Professor of the Arts and Sciences at Harvard University. An influential scholar on women in the labor market, Goldin has conducted foundational research on gender gaps in earnings, economic inequality and educational change that has advanced understanding of women’s progress in the workforce.

Goldin is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. At the National Bureau of Economic Research, she co-directs the Gender in the Economy group and led the bureau’s Development of the American Economy program from 1989 to 2017. She was president of the American Economic Association in 2013, president of the Economic History Association in 2000 and editor of the Journal of Economic History from 1984 to 1988.

Her books include “Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women,” “The Race between Education and Technology” and “Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity.”

Goldin earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Cornell University in 1967 and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago in 1972. She is an outdoor enthusiast and a birdwatcher who has trained her golden retriever, Pika, to achieve several titles in scent detection.

Perry GranoffPerry Kasper Granoff
Doctor of Humane Letters
Community leader and champion of the arts

Perry Kasper Granoff is an accomplished community leader and philanthropist in the arts.

Born in Brooklyn, Granoff graduated from New York City’s public school system, which she credits with instilling her lifelong appreciation for the power of the visual and performing arts.

In her professional career, Granoff has worked as an educator and as a marital and family therapist. Her many voluntary contributions include service on the boards of the Roundabout Theatre in New York, the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center, the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. She has served on the board of New York City Center, a performing arts nonprofit dedicated to making the arts accessible, and she was also a member of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division committee of the New York Public Library, which is the world’s largest dance archive.

Brown University’s Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, which opened in 2011 as a campus catalyst for collaboration in the arts, sciences and humanities, is named in recognition of the extraordinary leadership and generosity of Granoff and her husband, Marty.

Granoff earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, a master of fine arts from Columbia University and an education specialist degree from Seton Hall University.

Joy Harjo, photo by Denise ToombsJoy Harjo
Doctor of Letters
Twenty-third U.S. poet laureate

A former U.S. poet laureate, Joy Harjo is an award-winning poet, musician, playwright and author.

A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Nation who served from 2019 to 2022 as U.S. poet laureate, the first Native American to hold that honor. She published her debut collection in 1975 and has authored 10 books of poetry, two memoirs and seven music albums, as well as plays and children’s books, many of which include themes of Native American oral history, the arts and social justice.

Harjo’s many awards and honors include Yale’s Bollingen Prize for American Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Tulsa Artist Fellowship.

She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and chair of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. Harjo is currently the inaugural artist-in-residence for the Bob Dylan Center, a museum in Tulsa that celebrates the Nobel Prize–winning singer-songwriter.

Harjo earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of New Mexico in 1976 and a master of fine arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1978.

William KentridgeWilliam Kentridge
Doctor of Fine Arts

William Kentridge is a leading South African artist whose works have been exhibited in museums across the world. With works across drawing, writing and film, Kentridge’s creations are grounded in politics, science, literature and history. He is also renowned for his original works for the stage, which combine performance, projections, shadow play, voice and music.

Since the 1990s, Kentridge’s artwork has been exhibited internationally at major artistic institutions including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Albertina Museum in Vienna, the Louvre Museum in Paris, the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland, and the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

He has directed Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Shostakovich’s “The Nose” and Alban Berg’s operas “Lulu” and “Wozzeck” for opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, La Scala in Milan, the English National Opera in London and the Salzburg Festival.

Kentridge was born in Johannesburg, where in 2016 he co-founded the Centre for the Less Good Idea, an incubator for experimental performance. Kentridge is currently an artist-in-residence at the Brown Arts Institute as part of the IGNITE series, which commemorates the inaugural year of Brown’s new Lindemann Performing Arts Center.

Pedro NogueraPedro Noguera
Doctor of Humane Letters
Scholar of education and equity

Pedro Noguera is a leading educator and author on issues related to race, inequality and education who earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology and American history in 1981 and his master’s degree in sociology in 1984, both from Brown University, where he also played rugby, held student leadership roles and was an activist.

Born in New York to Caribbean immigrants, Noguera launched his career as a social studies teacher. He taught in Providence, R.I., and in California, where he began work in community advocacy and policy development. He has taught at the Berkeley School of Education, the Harvard Graduate School of Education and New York University. He is currently dean and a distinguished professor at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education.

An American Academy of Arts and Sciences member, Noguera has written 15 books, including “A Search for Common Ground,” co-authored with Frederick Hess, which won the American Association of Publishers Prose Award in 2021. An adviser to multiple states, school districts and nonprofits, Noguera serves on President Joe Biden’s Advisory Commission on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics.

Among multiple honorary degrees and many recognitions, he has received a Distinguished Service to Public Education award from the National Association of Secondary School Principals and a McSilver Award from the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University.

He is married to Brown alumna Allyson Pimentel.

Sarah RuhlSarah Ruhl
Doctor of Letters
Playwright and poet

Sarah Ruhl is an award-winning playwright, author, essayist and educator who earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1997 and a master of fine arts in playwriting in 2001, both from Brown University.

A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the winner of a prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship, Ruhl has written plays that have been translated into 14 languages and produced on Broadway, staged across the U.S. and performed internationally. Her plays include “Eurydice,” “In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play,” “Orlando,” “The Clean House” and “Passion Play.” Her books include “Smile,” a memoir about her struggle with facial palsy, and “100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write.”

Among her many awards, Ruhl received a Whiting Writers’ Award, a PEN America Award for mid-career playwrights, a Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award, and a MacArthur “genius grant.” She has served on the executive council of the Dramatists Guild and on the board of the Lillys, an organization dedicated to women in theater.

At Brown, she studied playwriting with Paula Vogel, a professor emerita of theatre arts and performance studies. Ruhl is a professor in the practice of playwriting at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, Brown University alumnus Dr. Anthony Charuvastra, and their three children.

Jerome VascellaroJerome C. Vascellaro
Doctor of Humane Letters
Business leader and champion of Brown

Jerome C. Vascellaro is an accomplished and collaborative business leader and former vice chancellor of the Corporation of Brown University who earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Brown in 1974.

Vascellaro launched his career in 1978 at McKinsey and Company, where he served clients and helped manage the firm as a senior director. He left McKinsey in 2006 and became chief operating officer of the investment firm TPG, from which he retired in 2021. He chairs the board of Y Analytics, a social impact assessment organization, and serves on the national boards of trustees for the Trust for Public Land and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. He is a past board chair of the California Academy of Sciences.

At Brown, Vascellaro served on the Corporation for 20 years, including nine years as vice chancellor. During that time, he played key leadership roles through his service on the presidential search committees that selected Ruth J. Simmons and Christina H. Paxson and through his service for other major initiatives, including the Boldly Brown campaign, which he co-chaired. He is a past president of the Brown Alumni Association and a past chair of the Brown Annual Fund.

In addition to his degree from Brown, Vascellaro earned an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1978 and graduated as a Baker Scholar. 

Mary VascellaroMary Elizabeth Vascellaro
Doctor of Humane Letters
Community leader and champion of Brown alumnae

An accomplished community leader in education, civic engagement and the arts, Mary Elizabeth Vascellaro is a longtime champion of Brown alumnae who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Brown in 1974.

Following a career in retail merchandising and management during which she was among the first women leaders in her role with organizations such as Filene’s and Lord and Taylor, Vascellaro became a volunteer nonprofit leader who served for 16 years on the Teach for America Bay Area advisory board, which she chaired. She was also the founding board chair for Generation Citizen, a national organization founded by Brown students to advance civic education and participation.

At Brown, Vascellaro serves on the President’s Advisory Council of the Ruth J. Simmons Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. For decades, she has championed engagement and mentorship among Brown alumnae, having served as a founding member of the Women’s Leadership Council and as chair of the Pembroke Center Associates Council. She also chaired the celebration of 120 years of women at Brown, which welcomed more than 500 alumnae from across the generations to campus in 2012.

In addition to her degree from Brown, Vascellaro earned an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

[Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Pedro Noguera earned his master’s degree from Brown in 1984.]