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Allende, Bloomberg, Bush, and Stiglitz: The Honorands

5.29.14

Front row from left: Seymour Slive, Provost Alan Garber, Michael R. Bloomberg, President Drew Faust, George H. W. Bush. Back row from left: Peter H. Raven, Patricia King, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Isabel Allende, Aretha Franklin

Front row from left: Seymour Slive, Provost Alan Garber, Michael R. Bloomberg, President Drew Faust, George H. W. Bush. Back row from left: Peter H. Raven, Patricia King, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Isabel Allende, Aretha Franklin

Photograph by Stu Rosner

During the Morning Exercises of the 363rd Commencement, on May 29, Harvard planned to confer honorary degrees on five men and three women—among them a preeminent art historian; a Nobel laureate in economics; an acclaimed popular singer; a former United States president; and, for the second year in a row, a long-serving mayor: Michael R. Bloomberg, of New York City, following Boston’s Thomas M. Menino. (The honorands are listed in alphabetical order, not in the order of conferral of degrees. Bloomberg, as the speaker at the Afternoon Exercises, will, by custom, receive his degree last during the Morning Exercises. Updated 11:30 a.m.: Out of respect, in keeping with protocol, President George H. W. Bush's degree was conferred last, after Mayor Bloomberg's.)

Isabel Allende, novelist, Doctor of Letters. The author of 20 books, including the renowned The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende was born in Peru to Chilean parents in 1942. After the assassination of President Salvador Allende (her father’s first cousin) and the overthrow of the Chilean government in 1973, she fled Chile in 1975 and took refuge in Venezuela, where she lived for 13 years. She then moved to the United States, and became a citizen in 2003. Her biography notes:

In 1981 Allende learned that her beloved grandfather, who still lived in Chile, was dying. She began a letter to him, recounting her childhood memories of life in her grandparents’ home. Although her grandfather died before having a chance to read the letter, its contents became the basis for The House of the Spirits, the novel that launched her literary career at age 40. The novel details the lives of two families living in Chile from the 1920s to the country’s military coup in 1973, and has been described as both a family saga and a political testimony.

She is also active in human rights. After the death of her daughter in 1992, she founded a charitable foundation dedicated to the protection and empowerment of women and children.

In a report on her most recent book tour, the Crimson observed:

Isabel Allende grew up in chaos. She was raised in an unhappy, dysfunctional household in Santiago, Chile, and was forced to flee her country as a political refugee….

With all the turmoil she’s lived through, it’s a wonder how brilliant and consistent her work output has become. She starts writing every year on January 8 and has produced nearly a novel a year since 1998….

When asked how exile shaped her work as a writer, Allende responded:

Not just as a writer—it changed my life. I had to leave my country and live in Venezuela for 13 years. I think writing The House of the Spirits was a crazy attempt to recover everything I had lost—my house, my family, my country. I was beginning to lose my memories of the past. So writing the novel helped me recover all that. I don’t think I would be a writer if I had stayed in Chile.

And on a turning point in her career, an “infamous” encounter with the poet Pablo Neruda:

Neruda called the place I was working, a magazine, and said he wanted me to visit him. I thought, “If the Nobel Prize winner calls me, I must be the best journalist in the country!” So I bought a new tape recorder and drove all the way to the beach. It was windy and rainy and gross. We had lunch, and then I asked to interview him. He said, “I will never be interviewed by you. You are the worst journalist in the country! You lie all the time, you make things up, you are never objective. Why don’t you switch to literature, where all of your defects become virtues?”

I didn’t pay any attention then: that was ’73 and I wrote my first novel in ’81. But I realized that he was right. I was a lousy journalist.

Michael R. Bloomberg, M.B.A. ’66, Doctor of Laws. Entrepreneur, civic leader, and active philanthropist, Michael R. Bloomberg will be the principal afternoon speaker at Commencement.

New York City’s recently retired three-term mayor was born in Boston and raised in Medford, Massachusetts. He attended Johns Hopkins (to which he has made gifts totaling $1.1 billion) and Harvard Business School; at the latter, a professorship and the renovated Baker Library | Bloomberg Center are named in honor of his late father, William Henry Bloomberg. Before entering politics, he worked at Salomon Brothers and then founded the financial services and media firm Bloomberg L.P.

Since leaving office, he has maintained his commitment to public service: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed him a special envoy for cities and climate change, “looking to the former mayor to mobilize municipal leaders to respond” to existing and emerging environmental threats in light of his own experience in confronting those challenges. In its most recent annual update, his Bloomberg Philanthropies reported that it had distributed $452 million in 2013. On May 22, Bloomberg announced that he would donate the $1-million honorarium awarded to him as the first Genesis Prize-winner to a new program to support “change agents.”

George H. W. Bush, forty-first president of the United States, Doctor of Laws. George H. W. Bush, a Navy combat pilot in World War II, was an undergraduate at Yale before entering the oil industry in western Texas. He subsequently served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Following two unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaigns in Texas, he served as ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in the People’s Republic of China, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He campaigned unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, but was selected by Ronald Reagan to run for the vice presidency. Following two terms of service, he was elected president in 1988, and served one term.

In an administration during a period of substantial change in the world at the end of the Cold War, he led the United States through the transition in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and authorized the invasion of Panama and the U.S. military response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (culminating in the Desert Storm operation that repelled the Iraqi army). His 1990 decision to raise taxes to address the nation’s budget deficit, considered a factor in his 1992 defeat, was recently recognized with a Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

President Bush and his wife, Barbara (Pierce) Bush, have six children, including George W. Bush, M.B.A. ’75, the forty-third president, and John (Jeb), a former governor of Florida and potential presidential candidate in the 2016 election.

Aretha Franklin, singer, Doctor of Arts. Aretha Franklin, born in 1942, began singing gospel music in her father’s Detroit congregation. The first female artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she has won 18 Grammy Awards and is known as the “Queen of Soul” for hits like “Respect.” She performed at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. and sang at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, in 1993; was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005; and in 2009 sang at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, J.D. ’91. Franklin, much-honored, received an honorary degree from New York University at its graduate exercises (in Yankee Stadium, no less) on May 21.

In keeping with a tradition of President Drew Faust’s tenure—Wynton Marsalis tooting his horn in 2009, Plácido Domingo serenading Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2011—it would surprise no one if Franklin broke into song.

Patricia King, J.D. ’69, Carmack Waterhouse professor of law, medicine, ethics, and public policy, Georgetown, Doctor of Laws. Patricia A. King, a member of the Georgetown Law Center faculty since 1973, was elected to the Harvard Corporation in December 2005, succeeding Conrad K. Harper, J.D. ’65, who resigned following disagreements over the governing board’s evaluation of and compensation award to then-president Lawrence H. Summers. King began her service in May 2006. As a scholar, she focused on such issues as human subjects of biomedical research and stem cells. In December 2012, she announced that she would conclude her Corporation service at the end of that year, citing family reasons.

Peter H. Raven, president emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden, Doctor of Science. Peter H. Raven served as director, and later president and director, of the Missouri Botanical Garden from 1971 to 2010. A scholar whose research has explored the coevolution of butterflies and plants and the evening primrose family, he is a prominent speaker to lay audiences on biodiversity and species conservation. He has received the U.S. National Medal of Science, and has held both Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundation fellowships. Raven is coauthor of Biology of Plants, a textbook used worldwide, and of Environment, another leading text.

The garden itself, founded in 1859, is the oldest botanical garden in continuous operation and a National Historic Landmark. It has become a leading center for plant conservation research, and, as a botanical research organization, is home to a large scientific staff.

Raven is also Engelman professor of botany emeritus in the department of biology at Washington University. He is past president of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and served for 12 years as home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences. He has received virtually every major environmental prize around the world, and the National Medal of Science, and is also a former Guggenheim and MacArthur fellow.

He is recovering from an accident suffered last January; as he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Take my advice. You do not want to break your neck.” During his recuperation, the final installment in a 49-volume work, The Flora of China, was released; Raven, who was born in China, co-chaired the project.

Seymour Slive, Cabot Founding Director of the Harvard University Art Museums emeritus, Doctor of Arts. Seymour Slive, who joined the faculty in 1954 and ultimately served as Gleason professor of fine arts, was director of the art museums from 1975 until his retirement in 1991. According to the biographical note in the Dictionary of Art Historians, “Slive was the first American-trained art historian to specialize in the history of Netherlands Baroque art.” He is renowned for his scholarship on Rembrandt, Frans Hals, and Jacob van Ruisdael. At the Harvard museums, he founded the Arthur M. Sackler Museum to house the collections of ancient, Asian, and Islamic art, which will now be consolidated in the unified Harvard Art Museums complex, opening this November. (Read the Crimson’s account of the Sackler’s creation and Slive’s recollections here.)

Honoring Slive in 2003, the University of Chicago (his undergraduate and graduate alma mater) described him as “a scholar, teacher and advocate for the arts.…[H]e is a distinguished authority in the field of 17th-century Dutch art. His dissertation, written at Chicago, was published in 1953 as Rembrandt and His Critics 1630-1730. This work opened the study of the critical reception of Rembrandt's work. “ In addition to his monographs, the citation noted his authorship of “the standard textbook on the period in the Pelican History of Art series (first published in 1966).”

Joseph E. Stiglitz, University Professor, Columbia, Doctor of Laws. Joseph E. Stiglitz, who shared the 2001 Nobel Prize in economic sciences for work on markets characterized by asymmetric information, noted in his biographical statement that he was born in Gary, Indiana— “at the time, a major steel town on the southern shores of Lake Michigan”—apparently fertile soil for economists (Paul Samuelson, the first winner of the prize, also came from Gary; Stiglitz later edited his papers as a graduate student at MIT).

Stiglitz received the American Economic Association's John Bates Clark Medal in 1979—the field's highest honor for its most promising young scholar. In addition to prior faculty positions at MIT, Yale, Stanford, Oxford, and Princeton, he served on the Council of Economic Advisers from 1993 to 1995, and was its chair from 1995 to 1997; he then was senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank, from 1997 to 2000.

He has written widely, and fiercely, about inequality, and has been a critic of globalization and of the practices that led to the financial crisis in 2007 and the ensuing steep recession. Among his widely known recent books are The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future; Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy; Globalization and Its Discontents; and What Have We Learned? Macroeconomic Policy after the Crisis (with several coauthors).

•••

Honorands Dinner Notes. At the annual dinner celebrating the honorands, held Wednesday night in Annenberg Hall, the student entertainment (often a solo classical performance) this year was provided by the Sisters of Kuumba singers—a fitting choice given the presence of two African-American women among the honorands: Franklin and King.

Three of the eight honorands took the night off: both President Bush and Professor Slive—the former about to turn 90, the latter a few months from his ninety-fourth birthday (and sixtieth anniversary of his Harvard faculty appointment)—chose to rest before facing the rigors of the long Commencement day. And Aretha Franklin reportedly chose to rest her voice during the evening.

President Faust thanked two pillars of the Harvard community during the evening: Robert D. Reischauer ’63, stepping down as Senior Fellow of the Corporation (and earlier, an Overseer)—concluding 18 years of leadership on the University’s governing boards; and John P. (Jack) Reardon Jr. ’60, who is stepping down from directing the Harvard Alumni Association, but staying aboard to work on governance, fundraising, and other matters. Both received thunderous ovations. (Spoiler alert: Look for Reischauer to be among the honorands next May.)

In introducing Bloomberg, before his toast on behalf of the honorands, Faust revealed that he had visited her at the Radcliffe Institute, a week after her appointment as Harvard president, and remarked then that she was much taller than he had imagined—a point demonstrated when they hugged. Bloomberg said he was honored to be among so many distinguished scholars and leaders in his cohort of honorands, and cited one of his lesser-known accomplishments: his brief appearance on the final episode of Gossip Girl. In hailing communities that are open to the free exchange of ideas, he said that America, while far from perfect, was still the place that attracted all those from around the world who voted with their feet in search of space to pursue their aspirations.

 

 

 

 

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