Bowdoin Announces 2011 Honorary Degree Recipients

Story posted February 25, 2011

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Bowdoin College will award five honorary degrees at its 206th Commencement exercises Saturday, May 28, 2011. The ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. on the Quad in front of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Honorary degrees will be awarded to acclaimed filmmaker Mira Nair; Dr. Cynthia Friend, Theodore Williams Richards Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science at Harvard University; Bela Fleck, considered by many to be the premier banjo player in the world; Henry A. Millon, one of the foremost scholars on the architectural history of the Renaissance and Baroque eras; and John E. Baldacci, the 73rd Governor of the State of Maine.

About the Recipients

Mira Nair, an internationally acclaimed filmmaker and producer, was born in Bhubaneswar, India, and studied sociology and theater at Delhi University and at Harvard University. She began her career as an actor, before turning to documentary film, which she has described as “a marriage of my interests in the visual arts, theater, and life as lived.” Her first documentary film, India Cabaret, won awards at the Global Village Film Festival, the Athens International Film Festival, and the American Film Festival. Her first feature film, Salaam Bombay! (1988), about street children in Mumbai, won the Camera D’Or (best first feature) and Prix du Publique (most popular entry) awards at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Film. With proceeds from the film, Nair established the Salaam Baalak Trust to meet the safety, nutritional, health, social, and educational needs of street children in Mumbai. Though films such as Mississippi Masala (1991), The Perez Family (1995), Hysterical Blindness (2001), and Monsoon Wedding (2001, winner of the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival), Ms. Nair explores the ways in which broad-scale issues of race, culture, and economic circumstance intersect individual lives. Her most recent films include Vanity Fair (2004), The Namesake (2007), and Amelia (2009).  Through Mirabai Films, her production company, she founded Maisha, a non-profit training initiative in screenwriting, directing, producing, cinematography, editing, sound recording, and acting for emerging East African filmmakers. In 2007 she was named the India Abroad Person of the Year and received the Pride of India Award for her contributions to the film industry.  Ms. Nair lives in New York with her husband, Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, and their son, Zohran Mamdani, a member of the Bowdoin College Class of 2014.

Dr. Cynthia M. Friend is the Theodore Williams Richards Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science at Harvard University. She received a B.S. degree in chemistry from the University of California at Davis in 1977 and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1981. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University, Friend joined the Harvard faculty in 1982. Her pioneering research focuses on controlling the chemical and physical properties of interfaces through selective catalytic synthesis and the use of hybrid metals/metal oxides (including nanostructures) for chemical and photocatalysis. Using these techniques, researchers within the Friend group are exploring new avenues for the production of biofuels and esters, splitting water to create storable hydrogen energy, and strategies for reducing pollution. Friend has received many awards for her work, including the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Fellowship, the American Chemical Society’s George C. Olah Award, the Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal, the Alexander von Humboldt Senior Research Award, and a Presidential Young Investigator Award. The author or co-author of numerous scientific journal articles and reports, she is also the co-editor-in-chief of the journal Catalysis Science & Technology. She has served on advisory panels and committees for the National Science Foundation, NATO, the National Research Council, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Bela Fleck began playing the banjo at the age of 15 and has become a virtuoso whose music transcends traditional categories and the boundaries of international musical styles. A native New Yorker, Fleck studied the French horn and banjo at New York City’s High School of Music and Art. After high school he began to play with the group Tasty Licks, and released a solo album of progressive bluegrass music in 1979. Fleck played with a number of individual artists and bands (including Spectrum: the Band and New Grass Revival), before forming Béla Fleck and the Flecktones in 1988. Each professional collaboration has broadened his remarkable musical range. Over the course of his 30-year career he has won 13 Grammy Awards and has been nominated for Grammy Awards in more categories than any other artist in history – including pop, country, bluegrass, classical, contemporary jazz, world music, spoken-word, composition and arranging categories.  Throw Down Your Heart is both an album and an award-winning documentary film that explores the African origins of the banjo with musicians in Uganda, the Gambia, Mali, and Tanzania. The third of Fleck’s “Tales from the Acoustic Planet” series, Throw Down Your Heart won 2010 Grammy Awards for Best World Music Album and Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Among other projects, Fleck is writing a concerto to be performed by the Nashville Symphony in September of 2011. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones performed at Bowdoin to a full house at Pickard Theater in March of 2010.

Henry A. Millon, Dean Emeritus of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, is one of the foremost scholars on the architectural history of the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Millon entered the Navy V-12 program at Tulane University in 1943 and served on active duty in 1946. He returned to Tulane and received bachelor’s degrees in English, physics and architecture, then went to Harvard University, where he earned master of arts degrees in architecture and urban design and in art history, and a Ph.D. in art history.  Following three years in Italy as a Fulbright Fellow and a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, he was appointed to a professorship at M.I.T.  His writings on Michelangelo’s architectural contributions to the design of St. Peter’s marked a fundamental change in the scholarship of Renaissance art. He was chosen as the first dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, a position that he held for 20 years until his retirement in 2000. His publications include Baroque and Rococo Architecture (1961), Key Monuments of the History of Architecture (1964), Fillippo Juvarra, Drawings from the Roman Period, Part 1 (1984) and Part 2 (1999), The Triumph of the Baroque (1999) and co-authored works on Michelangelo Architect (1988), and The Renaissance from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo (1994). Millon has served as vice-chair of the Boston Landmarks Commission, director of the American Academy in Rome, president of the Society of Architectural Historians, president of the Foundation for Documents of Architecture, president of the University Film Study Center and as curator for the American Philosophical Society. In his roles as outstanding scholar, generous colleague and wise mentor, Henry Millon is held in the highest regard.

John E. Baldacci completed his second four-year term as the 73rd Governor of the State of Maine in January of 2011. A native of Bangor, he worked in his family’s restaurant while earning a bachelor of arts degree in history from the University of Maine in Orono in 1986. At the age of 23 he was elected to the Bangor City Council. Four years later he was elected to the Maine State Senate, where he served for 12 years. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 and was re-elected to Congress by wide margins in 1996, 1998 and 2000. He served on the Agriculture, Small Business, and Transportation Committees of the House of Representatives.  He returned to Maine and won the 2002 gubernatorial election. As governor, Mr. Baldacci is perhaps best known for Dirigo Health (a comprehensive reform of the state’s health care system), the incorporation of technical colleges in Maine into the Community College System, and the Pine Tree Zone program to encourage business growth in targeted areas of Maine, and his proposal to reduce administrative costs by consolidating school districts into regional school units. Through challenging economic times, Governor Baldacci sought to increase efficiencies in the delivery of health care and the administration of public education and local governments, limit tax burdens on Maine citizens, attract new businesses, and develop renewable energy sources. He and his wife, Karen, have a son, John.

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