Six receive honorary degrees

A collection of stories covering Harvard University’s 373rd Commencement.

The University will confer the honorary degrees during Thursday’s Commencement ceremony in Tercentenary Theatre.

Lawrence S. Bacow

Doctor of Laws

President emeritus of Harvard University, Larry Bacow is widely admired for his decades of distinguished leadership in higher education. As Harvard’s 29th president from 2018 to 2023, he worked to advance interdisciplinary initiatives in areas including climate change, quantum science and engineering, the future of cities, natural and artificial intelligence, and the legacy of slavery. He is known for his efforts to expand educational opportunity, to promote international exchange, to encourage public service, and to guide Harvard through the COVID-19 pandemic. A scholar of environmental studies, Bacow served as president of Tufts University from 2001 to 2011, strengthening its commitment to academic excellence, inclusion, and civic engagement. He previously served for 24 years on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he led centers on environmental initiatives and real estate and rose to become chancellor. He has served as chair of the Association of Governing Boards’ council of presidents, chair of the executive committee of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, a member of the American Council of Education’s executive committee, and a Fellow of Harvard College. His numerous honors include the ACE’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Gustavo Adolfo Dudamel Ramírez

Doctor of Music

Known for his dynamic musicianship and his devotion to the power of the arts, Gustavo Dudamel is an internationally renowned conductor. Currently the music and artistic director of both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, he will become the music and artistic director of the New York Philharmonic in 2026. He has conducted major orchestras worldwide, featuring works by composers from Beethoven to Mahler to John Adams, and his discography includes more than 65 recordings. Born in Venezuela, he began violin studies as a child through the celebrated El Sistema program. By his teens he had distinguished himself as a conductor, becoming music director of the Simón Bolívar Youth Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela at 18 and winning the inaugural Gustav Mahler Competition at 23. He is a passionate advocate for music education through his work with Youth Orchestra Los Angeles as well as the Dudamel Foundation. Named one of Time’s most influential people in 2009, he has received such honors as Spain’s Gold Medal for Merit in Fine Arts, the Konex Foundation Classical Music Award, and the International Society for the Performing Arts’ Distinguished Artist Award.

Sylvester James Gates Jr.

Doctor of Science

Sylvester James (Jim) Gates Jr. is an eminent theoretical physicist known for his contributions to supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory and for his dedication to promoting public understanding of the wonders of science. With two S.B. degrees and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Gates holds the Clark Leadership Chair in Science and a joint appointment in the Department of Physics and the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. He is also a Distinguished University Professor and a University System of Maryland Regents Professor. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Gates also received the 2011 National Medal of Science. He served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) under Barack Obama and was the vice president of the Maryland State Board of Education. Gates was the recipient of the American Institute of Physics’ 2021 Andrew Gemant Award, given in recognition of contributions to the cultural, artistic, or humanistic dimension of physics. In addition, he has served as Ford Foundation Professor of Physics and director of the Theoretical Physics Center at Brown University, as well as chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Howard University. He is past president of both the American Physical Society and the National Society of Black Physicists. He co-authored both “Superspace,” a groundbreaking book on supersymmetry, and “Proving Einstein Right: The Daring Expeditions that Changed How We Look at the Universe.” He has appeared in numerous documentaries about science.

Jennie Chin Hansen

Doctor of Humane Letters

Jennie Chin Hansen is an innovative and influential leader in care for older people. Raised in Boston, she received her B.S. at Boston College and her M.S. in nursing at the University of California, San Francisco. She served for more than 25 years as the leader of On Lok, a California nonprofit that pioneered new models of comprehensive community-based care for older adults. Its programs became a prototype for the federal Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), available to states nationwide. She went on to serve as president of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), playing a key role in advocating for the Affordable Care Act. She next served as CEO of the American Geriatrics Society, dedicated to the care of older adults. She continues her work on issues important to older Americans, such as dementia, emergency medicine, and health equity. Past president of the American Society on Aging and a former member of the U.S. Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, she has been honored by such organizations as the American Academy of Nursing, the American Society on Aging, the National Council on Aging, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

Joy Harjo-Sapulpa

Doctor of Literature

Joy Harjo is an acclaimed poet, educator, author, playwright, and musician. She served as the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate, only the second Poet Laureate to serve three terms (2019–22). A member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, whose work draws deeply on Native histories and traditions and on themes of remembrance and transcendence, she is the author of 10 books of poetry, including “Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: 50 Poems for 50 Years.” She has also written several plays and children’s books, and two memoirs. Her many honors include lifetime achievement awards from the National Book Critics Circle and the Poetry Foundation, as well as Yale University’s Bollingen Prize and the Academy of American Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and former chair of the board of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. She is also an award-winning musician who has released seven albums. A graduate of the University of New Mexico and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has taught at UNM and several other universities, and she is the inaugural artist-in-residence of the Bob Dylan Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Maria A. Ressa

Principal speaker
Doctor of Laws

Maria Ressa is an intrepid journalist and media innovator known for her fierce commitment to safeguarding freedom of the press and advancing the pursuit of truth. Her many honors include a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for her efforts to promote free expression, to combat disinformation, and to expose abuses of power in her native country, the Philippines. She is co-founder and CEO of Rappler, a digital news outlet in the Philippines focused on investigative journalism, editorial independence, and building communities of action for a better world. Before launching Rappler online in 2012, she served as chief of CNN’s bureaus in Manila and Jakarta and as senior vice president of multimedia news operations at ABS-CBN, the largest news organization in the Philippines. She is the author of books on terrorism, social media, and defending democracy against authoritarianism. A graduate of Princeton University and a former Shorenstein Fellow and Hauser Leader at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, she will become a professor of professional practice at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in July 2024. She was named a Time Person of the Year in 2018.

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