Date May 26, 2024
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Brown confers honorary doctorates on eight distinguished leaders

During its 256th Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 26, Brown University bestowed honorary degrees on a diverse group of business leaders, artists, writers and scholars.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — At its 256th Commencement on Sunday, May 26, Brown University conferred honorary doctorates on eight candidates who have achieved great distinction in a variety of fields. The recipients included:

  • 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
  • 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. They were conferred by University President Christina H. Paxson during Commencement exercises.

Below is the text from the honorary degree citations read aloud during the ceremony and presented to each recipient. Biographical notes are included in the University’s announcement of the 2024 recipients.

[Editor’s Note: Brown’s May 2 announcement included artist William Kentridge among the 2024 recipients. Due to illness that prevented him from traveling to the United States, Kentridge was unable to participate and receive an honorary degree. Brown leaders hope to honor him on another occasion.]

Geismer receives honorary degreeTom Geismar
Doctor of Fine Arts
Graphic design pioneer

Pioneering graphic designer and creator of some of the most recognizable logos in the nation, your craft has been seen and admired around the world. Decades before the Brown-RISD Dual Degree Program, you found a way to attend Brown and study concurrently at the Rhode Island School of Design. Your penchant for solving problems has guided your approach to design throughout your illustrious and ongoing career. From developing a national system of standardized transportation symbols, which earned recognition in the form of one of the first Presidential Design Awards; to exhibition design, where you condensed complex information into clear, dramatic experiences — including at the original Ellis Island Museum — your work has informed how we see the world. For your enduring contributions to the field of design and for making Brown and RISD proud, we honor you with the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts.

Goldin receives honorary degreeClaudia Goldin
Doctor of Humane Letters
Nobel Laureate and economist

Scholar, economist, 2023 Nobel Laureate — you have changed how we understand and address society’s most fundamental problems. Your groundbreaking research has advanced our understanding of women’s progress and persistent barriers that remain all too present in the workforce. Drawn to questions others have ignored, you have been guided by an intellectual curiosity and willingness to experiment that was first sparked when examining bacteria through a microscope in a class at the Bronx High School of Science. You have inspired new threads of research, often led by students you have taught and mentored throughout your distinguished career. A trailblazer in your own right, the first woman tenured in economics at Harvard, the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics, and the first to do so on your own, you are a true inspiration. We are deeply proud to award you with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Granoff receives honorary degreePerry Kasper Granoff
Doctor of Humane Letters
Community leader and champion of the arts

Patron of the arts and arts education, your impact has been deeply felt on this campus and across the great art institutions of your hometown of New York City. As a proud product of New York public schools, during an era in which arts education was highly valued, you developed the skills of a discerning lover of the arts. Your fierce passion for the arts has not wavered since. You have been present as a leader, as a philanthropist and as an advocate for the arts and their essential role in intellectual and personal development. At Brown, the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts manifests your vision for the arts at a university, supporting and inspiring generations of students to embrace creativity, innovation and the power of artistic expression. With gratitude, respect and artful admiration, we honor you with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Harjo receives honorary degreeJoy Harjo
Doctor of Letters
Twenty-third U.S. poet laureate

Poet. Musician. Playwright. Author. You are a leading literary artist of our time. As the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, you were the first Native American to hold that esteemed position. In multiple disciplines, propelled by your lyrical prowess, your transcendent voice weaves a rich tapestry of Indigenous experiences. Your body of work has been the recipient of numerous honors, including the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation and a celebrated cameo appearance in the television series “Reservation Dogs.” Your connections to Brown run deep, from your friendship with acclaimed Brown professor and poet Michael S. Harper to your choice of the John Hay Library as the permanent home for your papers and recordings. We are proud to play a small part in preserving your legacy for future generations, and even prouder to honor you today with the degree of Doctor of Letters.

Noguera receives honorary degreePedro Noguera
Doctor of Humane Letters
Scholar of education and equity

As a sociologist and Brown undergraduate and graduate alumnus, you have led a national conversation regarding public education. From student teaching in Providence to your current position as dean of the University of Southern California’s School of Education, you have demonstrated core values of equity, excellence, and educational and economic opportunity for all. Your writing and voice in the arena have brought rigor and principles of fairness to often fraught conversations about public education. As an advisor to schools and the White House, you have shown how community engagement can support and sustain better educational outcomes and benefit students, while addressing challenges of poverty and racism. As Brown is celebrating the importance of the arts, we especially honor your advocacy for arts and music education in public schools. Inspired by your example and grateful for your unflagging dedication to our nation’s children, we present you with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Ruhl receives honorary degreeSarah Ruhl
Doctor of Letters
Playwright and poet

Acclaimed playwright and distinguished Brown alumna, your words have echoed with meaning and power across stages on and off Broadway and around the globe. In an undergraduate class, your first play brought your professor, mentor and friend Paula Vogel to tears. When the curtain goes up on a Sarah Ruhl play, the audience prepares to travel with you amid, as you have described it, “the pleasure of heightened things.” Numerous original plays and adaptations and decades later, you have surely attained the greatest of heightened things. On receiving the MacArthur Fellowship, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation hailed you as a “playwright creating vivid and adventurous theatrical works that poignantly juxtapose the mundane aspects of daily life with mythic themes of love and war.” Brown is fortunate that your path brought you to College Hill, and we raise your name in loud chorus and honor your artistry with the degree of Doctor of Letters.

Vascellaros receive honorary degreeJerome C. Vascellaro
Doctor of Humane Letters
Business leader and champion of Brown

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

Jerome and Mary Vascellaro, from your first meeting as students on College Hill, your partnership has been one of deep and profound impact. Your unwavering commitment to education and excellence has elevated the Brown student experience to new heights. Your decades of service to the University — always thoughtful, always with an eye to the future — have built a stronger and more inclusive community of alumni and parents who share your belief in the unlimited possibilities of a Brown education. Your efforts as community builders, and as insightful proponents of free inquiry in the pursuit of knowledge, has laid the foundation for the success of generations of Brown students. Ever true, you have inspired us to push boundaries, challenge expectations and create a more enriched learning environment for all. For your exemplary leadership and steadfast commitment to all things Brown, we joyfully present you with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.