Honorary degrees decided

by Siobhan Gorman | 5/12/94 5:00am

Labor Secretary Robert Reich '68 and six others will receive honorary degrees at the 224th Commencement exercises in June, the College announced yesterday.

The College confirmed that Reich will speak June 12 to the Class of 1994 at Commencement if President Bill Clinton does not attend.

Clinton was invited by College President James Freedman but has not yet confirmed. According to a News Service press release, the College will not know for certain about Clinton's plans until early June.

Alumni John Berry '44 and Walter Burke '44 , scientist Jonas Salk, Princeton University History Professor Natalie Zemon Davis, abstract artist Helen Frankenthaler and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson will also receive honorary degrees.

Berry will receive a Doctor of Laws degree. He has been an active donor to the College and was the principal donor in a group that in 1992 committed $30 million, the largest benefaction in the College's history, for the construction of the Berry library.

He is the retired chairman and chief executive officer of the L.M. Berry Company of Dayton, Ohio, which was responsible for the creation of The Yellow Pages.

Burke will also receive a Doctor of Laws degree. He was the chair of the College's Board of Trustees for three years, Secretary to the Board Cheryl Reynolds said.

Burke is responsible for the new Burke chemistry building and has served for more than 30 years as president and secretary of the Sherman Fairchild Foundation. The Foundation supports important projects in the sciences at the College and at other schools. It also supports urban programs such as the Salvation Army and Boys' Clubs.

Burke said he thought he should not have been chosen to receive an honorary degree.

"I had thought it would be a good idea if I were not chosen because the College has honored me in so many ways," he said.

But he said he was honored to be chosen.

"It's been a wonderful two-way street for the past 20 to 25 years," he said.

This year Burke and Berry are celebrating their 50th class reunion. The College often recognizes "illustrious 50th-year alumni," Reynolds said, by awarding them with honorary degrees.

Reich, who graduated summa cum laude from the College, will also receive a Doctor of Laws degree. The Labor Secretary is a Rhodes Scholar and a former Trustee of the College. He met Clinton at Oxford and the two later attended Yale Law School together.

Davis will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. She has been the Henry Charles Lee Professor of History at Princeton since 1978. She has also taught at Brown University, the University of Toronto and the University of California at Berkeley.

Her published works include "Society and Culture in Modern France" and "The Return of Martin Guerre."

A Doctor of Fine Arts degree will be awarded to Frankenthaler, who is one of the inventors of a style of abstract art called color-field painting. Her work has been shown across the country and was the subject of a 1978 film.

Salk, who is a microbiologist credited with extensive work on the first polio vaccine in the 1950s, will receive a Doctor of Science degree. He is currently researching a vaccine against AIDS.

He founded the Salk Institute, a genetic and immune system research institute, and co-founded the Immune Response Corporation, which is developing his proposed AIDS vaccine.

Also a philosophy scholar, Salk is the author of the philosophic work "Man Unfolding."

Wilson will receive a Doctor of Letters degree. He is a self-taught poet and playwright who has won two Pulitzer Prizes for drama.

He won his first Pulitzer in 1987 for "Fences," a play about the experiences of a black family in the 1950s. His second Pulitzer was awarded for his play "The Piano Lesson."

The works are part of a series of plays that examine black identity through six decades in the 20th century.

His other works include: "The Homecoming," "The Coldest Day of the Year," "Fullerton Street," "Black Bart," "Sacred Hills," "Jitney" and "Joe Turner's Come and Gone."

The Council on Honorary Degrees tries to select recipients that represent a range of interests, Reynolds said.

"One of the things the Council tries to do is achieve a balanced slate," she said.

Reynolds said she could not comment on the reasons why these particular recipients were selected because "those discussions are confidential."

The honorary degree nomination process begins in the fall when the College sends a letter to the faculty, graduating seniors and graduate students. The Council also receives a list of nominees from an alumni council group responsible for searching for potential honorary degree recipients, Reynolds said.

The Council then meets several times with Freedman. When the list is complete, the president takes it to the Board of Trustees, which makes the final decisions.

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