Bowdoin to Award Six Honorary Degrees at 200th Commencement May 28

Story posted April 13, 2005

Bowdoin College will award six honorary degrees at its 200th Commencement exercises Saturday, May 28, 2005. The ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. on the campus quad in front of the Walker Art Building.

Honorary degrees will be awarded to:

Ellen Baxter, Bowdoin Class of 1975, executive director of Broadway Housing: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.)

Jung Chang, author and linguist: Honorary Doctor of Letters (Litt.D.)

Donald R. Kurtz, Bowdoin Class of 1952, trustee emeritus: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.)

Alan Lightman, author, physicist and educator: Honorary Doctor of Letters (Litt.D.)

Frederick G.P. Thorne, Bowdoin Class of 1957, trustee emeritus: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.)

Frederick Wiseman, documentary filmmaker: Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts (D.F.A.)

A series of special events with the honorands will be held during Commencement weekend.

On Friday, May 27, Lightman will discuss "The Physicist as Novelist" at 2 p.m. in the Bowdoin Chapel. Wiseman will present "The Making of a Documentary Film" at 3:15 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium, Visual Arts Center.

The Baccalaureate ceremony will be held in Morrell Gymnasium at 4:30 p.m., Friday, May 27. Chang will give the principal address, and a graduating senior will also speak.

The three alumni honorands - Baxter, Kurtz, and Thorne - will speak later Friday at a small dinner for all the honorary degree recipients hosted by Bowdoin President Barry Mills and his wife, Karen Gordon Mills (by invitation only).

Biographical information on each honorand follows. For more information call Sue Danforth in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs, (207) 725-3832.

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A 1994 recipient of Bowdoin's Common Good Award, Ellen Baxter has been a tireless advocate for the homeless in New York City. As executive director of Broadway Housing, she has been described as New York's most accomplished not-for-profit entrepreneur. She began her work in the early 1980s with the Community Service Society. With two colleagues, she formed Broadway Housing and raised money and public awareness by renovating a building to 55 single-room occupancy units for those in need. The program's success has led to more renovation or construction for housing and brought national attention and additional resources to bear on homelessness issues.

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Jung Chang was born in Yibin, Sichuan Province, China. At the age of 14 she was a Red Guard for a brief time. She subsequently worked as a peasant, a "barefoot doctor," a steelworker, and an electrician. She entered Sichuan University, where she studied English and became an assistant lecturer. In 1978 she left China and entered York University in Britain. She received a Ph.D. in linguistics in 1982, and was the first person from the People's Republic of China to receive a doctorate from a British university. Her book, Wild Swans - Three Daughters of China (1991), is an autobiographical look at 20th-century China as seen through the eyes of three generations of women within her family. The book has won widespread acclaim - the NCR Book Award (UK), the UK Writers' Guild's Best Non-Fiction Book, and the Book of the Year (UK) in 1993 - and been translated into more than 30 languages. Her next book will be a monumental biography of Mao Zedong.

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A 1952 Bowdoin graduate with an M.B.A. from Columbia University, Donald Kurtz has provided wise leadership to Bowdoin in areas of vital importance to the College over a long career, in which he drew on his years of executive experience with The Equitable Life Assurance Society, Equitable Investment Management, and General Motors. He was elected an Overseer of the College in 1984, and he chaired the Investments Committee during a period of strong growth in Bowdoin's endowment. Elected a Trustee in 1997, Kurtz took on the difficult task of chairing the Commission on Residential Life, which resulted in a transformation of the College's residential life system. He received the 1997 Alumni Service Award for leading the Bowdoin community through this difficult transition and for his selfless efforts on behalf of the College. Most recently, Kurtz chaired the Board of Trustees from 1999 to 2002.

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A 1970 Princeton graduate with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology, Alan Lightman is a scientist and a writer whose work enriches both science and literature. Throughout his early career at Cornell and Harvard, and as a research scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Lightman wrote poetry, fiction, reviews, and essays about science and the human side of science. He formerly served as professor of science and writing and senior lecturer in physics at M.I.T., where he headed the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies and helped to create the communication requirement for M.I.T. students. His books include Origins, Einstein's Dreams, Good Benito, The Diagnosis, and Reunion. Lightman is the recipient of the Distinguished Arts and Humanities Medal for Literature (Germantown Arts Alliance), the Gyorgy Kepes Prize in the Arts (M.I.T.'s Council for the Arts), and the Andrew Gemant Award of the American Institute of Physics (for linking science and the humanities). Lightman's scientific research has appeared in journals of physics and astrophysics and has earned him membership in the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was named a Literary Light of the Boston Public Library in 1995.

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Elected an Overseer of the College in 1972, Fred Thorne '57 continued his record of leadership in the College's governance as a Trustee (beginning in 1982), as Chair of the Board of Trustees from 1996 to 1999, and again as a Trustee until he was elected emeritus in 2003. Thorne has also generously volunteered his time and energy to Bowdoin as a Class Agent, a Bowdoin Club president, a regional chair for two prior capital campaigns and as chair of the New Century Capital Campaign. He has a long and distinguished record in the investment business at State Street Bank, John P. Chase, Inc. of Boston (later Phoenix Investment Counsel of Boston, Inc.), and Harbor Capital Management. He remains a financial consultant in his "retirement," and is a valued member of a number of corporate and philanthropic boards.

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Documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman made his first film, Titicut Follies, more than 35 years ago while he was a law professor. That film, which showed the brutality of mental health care of the criminally insane in a Massachusetts asylum, shocked audiences, and Massachusetts officials banned the film from public viewing for 25 years. Wiseman's documentary films number more than 30, including High School; Law and Order (Emmy Award for Best News Documentary in 1969); Hospital (which won an Emmy Award for best documentary direction in 1970); Juvenile Court; Public Housing; Belfast, Maine; and Domestic Violence. He is the winner of a MacArthur Prize (1982-1987), a Peabody award in 1991, three Emmy Awards, a Columbia DuPont Award, and the Irene Diamond Award for Lifetime Achievement by Human Rights Watch. A Williams College graduate with a law degree from Yale University, he is an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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