College to bestow eight honorary degrees today

by David Horowitz | 6/8/97 5:00am

Paavo T. Lipponen '64, prime minister of Finland and keynote speaker for the College's Commencement ceremony, will be one of eight recipients of Dartmouth honorary degrees today.

The other seven honorees include Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, acclaimed British writer Sir V.S. Naipaul, widely known Princeton University historian Nell Irvil Painter, former New Hampshire Governor Walter R. Peterson '47, Smith College President Ruth J. Simmons, National Institute of Health Director and Nobel Laureate Harold E. Varmus and highly distinguished writer, educator and sociologist William Julius Wilson of Harvard University.

Albee, who will be awarded a Doctor of Letters degree today, has had an explosive career as a playwright that has earned him recognition as the dramatic successor to Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill.

In his lifetime, Albee has penned 25 plays on subjects of modern alienation and depression, American values and the American family, of mysticism and of the bizarre.

He was born in 1928 and adopted by the Albees, a well-known New York Vaudeville family. Albee grew up outside of New York City and at the age of 20 he left home to live in Greenwich Village, where he mixed with artists and intellectuals of the newly developing subculture of the 1950s.

Albee wrote his first successful play, "The Zoo Story," in 1959 at the age of 30, the story of an executive seduced by a hobo to commit a murder. In 1962 Albee struck again with perhaps his most well-known work, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," which chronicles the torrential relationship of a hard-drinking intellectual couple.

Other of Albee's many successful pieces include "A Delicate Balance" (1966), "Seascape" (1975) and "Three Tall Women" (1994), each of which won the Pulitzer Prize, making him second only to O'Neill's four Pulitzers.

Sir V.S. Naipaul, who will get a Doctor of Letters degree today, is one of Britain's most acclaimed writers. His novels, essays and travel writings rank him as one of the best chroniclers of modernity.

Born in 1932, Naipaul came to England from his native Trinidad in 1949 to pursue a scholarship at Oxford. Naipaul has traveled extensively and evidence of his travel experiences reoccurs in many of his works, like "In A Free State" (1971), a book of five short stories about individuals displaced from their culture -- for which Naipaul won the Booker Prize.

Other of his writings include "A House for Mr. Biswas" (1961), "An Area of Darkness" (1964), "A Bend in the River" (1979), "Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey" (1981), "The Enigma of Arrival" (1987) and "India: A Million Mutinies Now," (1990).

Naipaul won the first David Cohen British Literature Award for lifetime achievement.

Nell Irvin Painter, who will be awarded a Doctor of Letters degree, is a professor of Southern history and the Edwards Professor of American history at Princeton University. Painter specializes in the black experience during the late 19th century.

Her latest book, "Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol" (1996), a divergence from Painter's previous scholarship, is a revisionist history of a Northern slave turned abolitionist and feminist who later became a popular symbol for the civil rights and women's rights movements.

Some of Painter's earlier works are: "Exodusters Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction" (1960), "The Narrative of Hosea Hudson: His Life as a Negro Communist in the South" (1979), "Standing at Armageddon: the United States, 1877-1919" (1987).

Painter has earned degrees at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles and a Ph.D. from Harvard University -- in addition to studies at the University of Bordeaux, France and the University of Ghana, West Africa.

She was on the faculty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and at the University of Pennsylvania before coming to Princeton in 1988.

Ruth Simmons, who will receive a Doctor of Laws degree, is currently the president of Smith College and the first African-American woman to become head of a top-ranked college or university in the United States. She holds degrees in romance languages and literatures from Harvard University and has served on the faculty of the University of New Orleans, California State University Northridge, Spelman College and Princeton University.

Simmons was the youngest of 12 children of tenant cotton farmers, and she told the Daily Princetonian that since she was a little girl, she has always wanted to "achieve something spectacular."

She has won innumerable academic awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship in France, and in 1996, she was named CBS Woman of the Year, NBC Nightly News Most Inspiring Woman and Glamour Magazine's Woman of the Year.

"I look forward to joining in the spirited celebration of the achievement of Dartmouth's class of 1997," Simmons said. "I will be honored to share their commencement and receive an honorary degree."

Walter Peterson '47, a teacher, president of two colleges, a Dartmouth Trustee andformer governor of New Hampshire, will earn his second Dartmouth degree this weekend -- the same weekend he returns to Hanover for his 50th reunion. Today he receives a Doctor of Laws degree.

From 1961-75, Peterson, a native of Nashua, pursued a successful career in New Hampshire state politics. He served four terms in the state legislature, including stints as majority leader and house speaker before being elected Governor in 1969, an office he held for one term.

For most of the last 22 years, Peterson served as president of Franklin and Marshall College, from which he retired in 1995.

Harold Varmus, AIDS and cancer researcher, director of the National Institute of Health and Nobel Prize Winner, pursued a Masters degree in English before deciding to study medicine.

Varmus, who today receives a Doctor of Science degree, has served as the chairman of the Board of Biology for the National Research Council, an advisor to the Congressional Caucus for Biomedical Research, a member of the Joint Steering committee for Public Policy of Biomedical Sciences and co-chairman of the New Delegation for Biomedical Research.

A graduate of Columbia Medical School in 1966, Varmus is a member of the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also chaired the subcommittee of the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses, which in 1986 gave the name HIV to the AIDS virus.

In 1993, President Clinton appointed Varmus director of the National Institute of Health.

Varmus and his colleague, Dr. Michael Bishop, shared the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine in 1989. The prize was for research findings indicating that cancer genes can arise from normal cellular genes, called proto-oncogenes.

William Julius Wilson, a sociologist at Harvard University, is as well-known in politics as he is in academia.

Wilson's research and writings about urban demographics in America have had far-reaching implications for American education and welfare policies.

In books like "The Declining Significance of Race" (1978), "The Truly Disadvantaged" (1987) and "When Work Disappears: The World of the Urban Poor" (1996), Wilson has sought to dispel the simple myth that racial laziness or racism -- "the ghetto mentality" -- is the only barrier keeping inner-city residents poor.

Wilson, who today will receive a Doctor of Letters degree, has argued that the larger and more complex urban-to-suburban national demographic and economic shift is taking industrial jobs away from cities -- and isolating urban residence from the benefits of our globalizing economy.

New education standards, New Deal type work programs, and better transportation are all a part of Wilson's proposed solution.

Wilson was raised in Pittsburgh and developed his interest in urban sociology while an undergraduate at Wilberforce University.

For his research, in 1991 Wilson was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, a superlative academic honor.

After earning his Ph.D. at Washington State University, Wilson taught at the University of Massachusetts and then for 25 years at University of Chicago before becoming the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

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