Published December 15, 2020 by Bowdoin News

Bowdoin Announces 2021 Honorary Degree Recipients

Bowdoin will bestow four honorary degrees at its 216th Commencement exercises to be held Saturday, May 29, 2021, on the Quad in front of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

This year’s honorary degree recipients include National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, renowned civil rights activist and Freedom Rider William Harbour (to be presented posthumously), civil rights activist and Campaign Zero cofounder DeRay Mckesson, and NASA astronaut Jessica Meir.

2021 Honorands Anthoni Fauci, William Harbour, DeRay Mckesson, Jessica Meir
(L. to r.) 2021 Honorands Anthoni Fauci, William Harbour, DeRay Mckesson, Jessica Meir

Anthony Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984 and since January 2020 has helped lead the U.S. research response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. One of the world's foremost experts on infectious diseases, Fauci has been described by The New York Timesand The New Yorkeras one of the most trusted medical figures in the country and was named one of People magazine’s four “2020 People of the Year.” As a physician with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Fauci has served American public health in various capacities for more than fifty years and has been an advisor to every US president since Ronald Reagan. He has made significant contributions to HIV/AIDS research and other immunodeficiency diseases, both as a scientist and as the head of the NIAID at the NIH. In a 2020 analysis of Google Scholar citations, Fauci ranked as the thirty-second-most highly cited living researcher. According to the Web of Science, he ranked seventh out of more than 1.8 million authors in the field of immunology by total citation count between 1980 and January 2020. Born in Brooklyn, NY, Fauci graduated from the College of the Holy Cross before attending medical school at Cornell University. He has delivered major lectures all over the world and is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to a civilian by the president of the United States. 

William Harbour, renowned as a civil rights activist, was a student at Tennessee State University in May 1961 when he participated in the Freedom Rides, first traveling on a Greyhound bus from Nashville to Montgomery, Alabama, then later from Nashville to Jackson, Mississippi. He and a group of other activists, both Black and white, faced violent mobs, members of the KKK, and hostile police forces as they protested enforced racial segregation on public bus systems and the nonenforcement of several Supreme Court decisions that ruled such segregation unconstitutional. Harbour was born in Piedmont, Alabama, where his father worked in a factory and owned the town’s only Black barbershop and where his mother worked as a cook for white families and in the Jacksonville State University cafeteria. The first person in his family to attend college, Harbour soon joined the Nashville Student Movement, a group of activist students working for civil rights in Nashville and beyond. Harbour was jailed several times for his activism and was, along with fourteen fellow students, expelled from Tennessee State; he and the others were later reinstated, and in 2008 the university bestowed them with honorary doctorates. Harbour went on to work as a schoolteacher in Blakely, Georgia, and later worked for the federal government in Atlanta. He became an unofficial archivist of the Freedom Rider Movement and was featured in a number of documentaries, including Freedom Riders, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Freedom Riders National Monument, designated in 2017 at the site of the former Greyhound bus depot in Anniston, Alabama, where Freedom Riders were attacked and a bus burned. The College offered Harbour the honorary degree just prior to his death in August 2020. Bowdoin bestowed three honorary degrees posthumously in the 1980s: Elizabeth Gilmore Holt (1987); Frank A. Brown Jr. '29 (1983); and Nathan Dane II '37 (1980).

DeRay Mckesson, of the Class of 2007, is a civil rights activist, a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, and a cofounder of Campaign Zero, a nonprofit devoted to promoting legislative and policy solutions against police violence and mass incarceration. Mckesson is also the host of the award-winning weekly podcast “Pod Save the People,” which combines an analysis of current news with deep conversations about social, political, and cultural issues with experts, influencers, and diverse local and national leaders. After Bowdoin, Mckesson began working as an educator, first via Teach for America in New York City and then as a district leader in Baltimore and Minneapolis. After the murder of Mike Brown and the subsequent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and beyond in the summer of 2014, Mckesson began to devote himself full-time to activism. In 2018, Mckesson published the book On the Other Side of Freedom, which relates his experiences as an activist, organizer, and educator and offers a framework for all Americans to dismantle the legacy of racism. Mckesson frequently appears on national media outlets, including NPR, MSNBC, and CNN, and has been featured in publications including The Advocate, Vogue, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Baltimore Sun. In 2015, Mckesson and fellow organizer Johnetta Elzie were awarded the Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award from PEN New England for their work during the Ferguson protests and their reporting on events through social media and uniting protesters’ voices in their newsletter, “This Is the Movement.” Also in 2015, Mckesson and Elzie were recognized on Fortune magazine’s list of The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders and one of the 30 Most Influential People on the Internet in 2016. 

Jessica Meir is a NASA astronaut, marine biologist, and physiologist. Meir received a bachelor of arts in biology at Brown University before going on to earn a master’s degree in space studies from International Space University and a doctorate in marine biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California–San Diego, where she studied the diving physiology of marine mammals and birds, focusing on oxygen depletion in diving emperor penguins and elephant seals. Meir later joined the staff of Harvard Medical School as assistant professor of anesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she continued her research on the physiology of animals in extreme environments. She also took part in Smithsonian Institution diving expeditions to the Antarctic and Belize, and has been active with scientific outreach efforts. In 2013, Meir was selected as one of eight members of the 21st NASA astronaut class and six years later, in September 2019, she launched as part of Expedition 61 and 62 to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz MS-15 and a month later, she and Christina Koch became the first women to participate in an all-female spacewalk. Her crew contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development. Among the investigations to which she contributed is a study examining how human heart tissue functions in space. Meir spent 205 days in space, took 3,280 orbits of Earth, and traveled 86.9 million miles. Born in the town of Caribou in northern Maine, Meir became the first woman from the state to reach space. NASA announced in December 2020 that Meir is among candidates for the Artemis Team, which is to be the first human mission to orbit and land on the moon in nearly fifty years. If chosen, Meir would be the first woman on the moon.