College awards seven honorary degrees

by Siobhan Gorman | 6/12/94 5:00am

The College will award a playwright, a historian, an artist, a scientist and three distinguished alumni with honorary degrees at today's 224th Commencement ceremonies.

Commencement speaker Labor Secretary Robert Reich '68, John Berry '44, Walter Burke '44, artist Helen Frankenthaler, scientist Jonas Salk, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson and Princeton University History Professor Natalie Zemon Davis will all receive honorary degrees today.

Each fall, the College solicits nominations and submits to the Board of Trustees a list of names of people who have worked tirelessly to improve either the world or the College, which selects six or seven people from the list to receive degrees.

The Council on Honorary Degrees aims to select recipients that represent a range of interests, Secretary to the Board Cheryl Reynolds said.

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

The College succeeded in picking a diverse group of people from many different fields and two members of the Class of 1944, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary this weekend in Hanover.

John Berry

Berry is the retired chairman and chief executive officer of the L.M. Berry Company of Dayton, Ohio, creator of the Yellow Pages.

One of the College's most devoted benefactors, Berry has contributed much of his time and money to the College.

He is the honorary national chair of the College's Will to Excel capital campaign and in 1992, contributed $25 million, the largest gift in College history, for the expansion of Baker Library, which will be completed in 1997.

He also funded the construction of the Berry Sports Center and the Loren Berry Professorships in Economics.

Berry will receive a Doctor of Laws degree today.

Walter Burke

Burke, a member of the Board of Trustees for ten years (1976-1986) and chair of the board for three (1983-1986), will also receive a Doctor of Laws degree.

The Burke Laboratory, which opened in Sept. 1992, was named for Burke. He 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 colleges and organizations nationwide.

The Foundation helped fund Dartmouth professorships, the construction of the Sherman Fairchild Center for the Physical Sciences and the Burke Laboratory.

It also supports urban programs like the Salvation Army and Boys' Clubs.

Burke said he did not think the College should have given him the award.

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

But, he said he was grateful to be chosen.

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

Classmates Burke and Berry are celebrating their 50th class reunion this year.

The College often recognizes "illustrious 50th-year alumni," Reynolds said, by awarding them honorary degrees.

Helen Frankenthaler

A Doctor of Fine Arts degree will be awarded to Frankenthaler, 66, an American painter who is one of the founders 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.

Jonas Salk

Salk, 79, is a world-famous microbiologist who developed the first injected vaccine for polio in 1955 and is now working on an AIDS vaccine. He will receive a Doctor of Science degree.

Salk is the founder of the Salk Institute, a genetic and immune system research institute, and he is the co-founder for the Immune Response Corporation, which is working on AIDS-related vaccines.

In 1993, he announced that clinical trials of a vaccine he developed proved successful in delaying the onset of AIDS in those infected with the HIV virus.

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

August Wilson

Wilson, 49, 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," which is a play about the experiences of a black family in the 1950s. His second Pulitzer was awarded for "The Piano Lesson," a drama.

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 and the Sacred Hills," "Jitney" and "Joe Turner's Come and Gone."

Natalie Zemon Davis

Davis, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Princeton since 1978, is a world-renowned historian and expert on French history.

The 66-year-old Davis, who has also taught at Brown University, the University of Toronto and the University of California at Berkeley, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Her works include "Society and Culture in Modern France" and "The Return of Martin Guerre," which was adapted into a popular French historical movie.

Reich, the seventh recipient of an honorary degree, is profiled on page 3.