Published March 08, 2022 by Bowdoin News

2022 Honorary Degree Recipients Bring Forth Inspiration, Imagination, and Business Acumen

In recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of women at Bowdoin, the College will bestow honorary degrees to five women who have soared to the tops of their fields in athletics, art, economics, journalism, and storytelling.
The degrees will be conferred at the 217th Commencement exercises, Saturday, May 28, 2022, on the steps of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
2022 honorary degree recipients

This year’s honorary degree recipients include (above, from left) contemporary artist Katherine Bradford, best-selling children's author Raquel Jaramillo (R. J. Palacio) P’18, economist and president of Thomas College Laurie Gagnon Lachance ’83, P’13, award-winning journalist and social activist Janet Langhart-Cohen, and decorated marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson ’79, P’12.

Katherine Bradford is best known for paintings of swimmers, superheroes, and ships that critics describe as simultaneously representational and abstract, luminous, and richly metaphorical. She began her career as an artist relatively late in life, achieving her widest recognition in her seventies.

Bradford began painting when she was living in Maine in the 1970s. She moved to New York City in the ’80s, but returns each summer with her spouse, Jane O’Wyatt, to her home in Brunswick.

Her work has been the subject of one-person shows at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (2013) and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth Texas (2017), and is scheduled for an upcoming survey exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine opening this June, which will travel to several venues.

Her work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Portland Museum (both Maine and Oregon), the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. Recent exhibitions include the New Orleans's Prospect 4 (2017), a solo show at CANADA in New York (2021), a group show at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas devoted to images of Superman and Superwoman (2019), and a solo exhibition at Tomio Koyama in Tokyo, Japan (2022).

Bradford was born in New York City and received a BA from Bryn Mawr College and an MFA from SUNY Purchase.  In 2011, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a year later, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award. Other awards include a Pollock Krasner Grant and two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The Bowdoin College Museum of Art recently added a Bradford painting, Fear of Dark, to its permanent collection. The painting was created in Brunswick in the summer of 2020 and was a gift to the museum from David and Barbara Roux in honor of museum codirectors Frank and Anne Goodyear.

Raquel Jaramillo (R. J. Palacio) P’18 is the author of the best-selling children’s novel Wonder, which was adapted into a 2017 film starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay. She has written several books based on the original Wonder characters; one of those books, White Bird: A Wonder Story, has been turned into a film starring Helen Mirren and Gillian Anderson, scheduled for release in October 2022.

Jaramillo is a first-generation American (her parents immigrated from Colombia), born and raised in New York City. After graduating with a BFA in illustration from Parsons School of Design, she started a career as an illustrator and book-jacket designer and became vice president and creative director of Henry Holt adult trade books in 1990, and editorial director of children’s books at Workman Publishing in 2007.

Shortly after the birth of her older son, Jaramillo began illustrating her own children’s books, including several picture books and a highly lauded coffee table edition of Peter Pan. Wonder was Jaramillo’s first novel, which was published in 2012 under the pen name R. J. Palacio. Wonder has gone on to become an international bestseller, translated into fifty-five languages, with fifteen million copies in print worldwide, and more than six years on The New York Times bestseller list. Her story about a boy in need of a little extra kindness from the world launched the anti-bullying Choose Kind movement, which in 2015 inspired myFace, an organization devoted to helping children with facial differences, to start the Wonder Project. This program brings the book’s message of kindness into schools nationwide, and has reached more than 60,000 students in the US to date. 

Laurie Gagnon Lachance ’83, P’13, one of Maine’s leading economists, began her career with Central Maine Power, where she became the company’s corporate economist. She later served as the Maine State Economist for three governors (1993–2004). From 2004 to 2012, she served as president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation before being named president of Thomas College in Waterville, Maine, in 2012. In each of these four major roles, Lachance was the first female to hold the position. 

After Bowdoin, she went on to earn her MBA from Thomas College, and was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree by the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

An author and frequent speaker on leadership, education, and Maine’s economy, Lachance was inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014, made the Mainebiz NEXT list as a trailblazer in her industry in 2015, was part of Maine Magazine's “Fifty Mainers Charting the State’s Future” list in 2016, and was inducted into the Junior Achievement Maine Business Hall of Fame in 2018. Laurie received the American Heart Association’s Crystal Heart Award in March 2022.

She serves on the boards of Educare Central Maine, Maine State Chamber, and Worthington Scholarship Foundation, and was elected to the boards of Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Company (MEMIC) in June 2018 and Bangor Savings Bank in June 2021. In 2020, Governor Janet Mills appointed Lachance cochair of Maine’s Economic Recovery Committee, charged with advising the governor on how to guide Maine’s economy through the pandemic.

Lachance was born in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, the granddaughter of French-Canadian immigrants, and was a first-generation college student. She and her husband, David, live in Manchester, Maine. 

Janet Langhart-Cohen is a television journalist and author who began her career as a fashion model and became a broadcast reporter and anchor after first reporting the weather for a Chicago station. She established the media consulting firm Langhart Communications in 2000.

Langhart-Cohen is a native of Indianapolis, where she grew up in a segregated housing project. She entered the public eye in the 1960s as a model for the Ebony Fashion Fair. Within a few years she was breaking racial and gender barriers by becoming the first Black woman in America to host a nationally syndicated show, Good Day. Her broadcasting experience includes work for both ABC and NBC network television, Entertainment Tonight, and BET.

Over the course of her twenty-five years in journalism, she interviewed some of the most influential newsmakers in the world, including President Bill Clinton, President Jimmy Carter, Margaret Thatcher, Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and Barbara Walters.

In 2004, she wrote her memoir, From Rage to Reason: My Life in Two Americas, which describes her personal experiences with race in America. In 2007, she and her husband—former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen ’62, H’75, P’85—wrote Love in Black and White, a memoir about race, religion, and romance, and later edited Race and Reconciliation in America. Langhart-Cohen attended Butler University, and she received an honorary degree from Emerson College in 2011.

In 2009, her one-act play, Anne and Emmett, based on the lives of Anne Frank and Emmett Till, premiered at the United States Holocaust Museum. The play is an extension of her life's work to raise awareness and spur dialogue around race, reconciliation, and equality in America. She is currently working on three new plays.

Joan Benoit Samuelson ’79, P’12 is the most recognizable athlete in Bowdoin’s history and one of the most decorated runners in the world. Among other associations, she is a member of the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, the National Distance Running Hall of Fame, the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame, the International Women’s Sports Foundation Hall of Fame, and the Olympic Hall of Fame.

She won the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983, when she set a course record that stood for eleven years. In 1984, she won the gold medal in the inaugural women’s Olympic marathon in Los Angeles. She won her age group at the 2013 and 2019 Boston marathons. In 1997, Samuelson founded the TD Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race and is chair of its board of directors. The race, set in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Samuelson’s home town, attracts the world’s elite runners and has received awards for its environmentally sustainable operation. She is a longtime board member of the Friends of Casco Bay and cochair of the Running Industry Diversity Coalition.

Samuelson has served as a coach at Boston University and has authored two books, Running Tide (coauthor; 1987) and Joan Samuelson’s Running for Women (1995).

Samuelson earned her bachelor's degree in history and environmental studies from Bowdoin in 1979. She has received eight other honorary degrees and earned her master gardener certification through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Samuelson was elected to Bowdoin’s Board of Overseers in 1995 and became a trustee in 1996. She was awarded the Bowdoin Prize, the College’s highest honor, in 1985. Her many Bowdoin relatives include husband Scott Samuelson ’80, father André Benoit ’43, and son Anders ’12. Joan and Scott Samuelson are longtime residents of Freeport, Maine.