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Honorary Degrees 2014

Smith College awarded honorary degrees to five distinguished guests at the 136th Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 18, 2014. The honorary degree recipients are:

Ela Bhatt

Ela Bhatt is an international activist and founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA). Deeply influenced by the teachings of Gandhi, with whom her grandparents had worked to achieve Indian independence from Britain, Bhatt has spent most of her life organizing grassroots movements in support of the rights of women and girls. A lawyer by training, Bhatt has focused her work specifically on protecting—and fighting for—the rights of women workers in India. She founded SEWA in 1972 to help women organize for better pay and working conditions in India’s textile industry. Today, the organization has more than a million members and has been called “one of the best—if not the best—grassroots programs for women on the planet.” In 2007, Bhatt was asked by Nelson Mandela to join The Elders, a group of international leaders he had formed to advocate for human rights worldwide. With The Elders, Bhatt has led initiatives to combat child marriage. Throughout her career, Bhatt has been honored with numerous awards, including the Global Fairness Initiative Award and the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development. Hillary Rodham Clinton has cited Bhatt as a personal hero.

Eric Carle

Eric Carle is an acclaimed illustrator, designer and author of iconic children’s books, including the best-selling The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Very Quiet Cricket. He is also the co-founder of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass. His books have sold more than 110 million copies worldwide. Carle began his career in the 1950s as a graphic designer in the promotion department of The New York Times. For many years, he worked as the art director of an advertising agency. Carle’s first book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, was the result of a collaboration with educator and author Bill Martin Jr., who first asked Carle to illustrate one of his stories. Carle’s books are distinctive for their bright and cheerful images, which he creates using a collage technique. A lover of nature, Carle often uses his stories to impart lessons to children about the world around them. “I believe children are naturally creative and eager to learn,” he says. “I want to show them that learning is really both fascinating and fun.” Carle has received numerous awards for his work, including the NEA Foundation Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education.

Swanee Hunt

Swanee Hunt is the former United States ambassador to Austria and founding director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Early in her career, Hunt made a name for herself in Denver, where for nearly 20 years she advocated on behalf of two mayors and the governor for better affordable housing, high-quality public education and women’s empowerment. Later, as ambassador to Austria from 1993 to 1997, she developed an expertise on domestic policy and foreign affairs, especially as they relate to women. She is known worldwide as a specialist on women in politics and has been a determined advocate for women’s leadership in Eastern Europe in particular. Hunt is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of numerous articles and books, including This Was Not Our War: Bosnian Women Reclaiming the Peace, which won the 2005 PEN/New England Award for nonfiction. Through the Hunt Alternatives Fund, which she founded with her sister Helen, she has donated more than $100 million toward youth arts organizations, various social movements and efforts to combat human trafficking. In 2007, Hunt was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Evelyn Fox Keller

Evelyn Fox Keller, a MacArthur fellow, scientific historian and philosopher, has spent much of her career bringing attention to the experiences of women scientists. Her work combines physics, biology and feminism, calling attention to, in her words, “the ways in which the social construction of a binary opposition between ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ has influenced the social construction of science.” Keller attended Brandeis University and later won a scholarship from the National Science Foundation. In 1957, she enrolled in Harvard, where she studied theoretical physics and was often reminded by students and faculty that no woman had ever succeeded at Harvard in that field. After graduating, Keller began publishing numerous articles about the experiences of women in science while working on her own research in physics and biology. She has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, Northeastern University and New York University, and was the 2011–12 William Allan Neilson Professor at Smith. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including Making Sense of Life and The Mirage of a Space Between Nature and Nurture. The recipient of a number of professional honors, including the Blaise Pascal Research Chair by the Prefecture de la Region D’lle-de-France, she is currently professor emerita of history and philosophy of science at MIT.     

Ruth J. Simmons

The ninth president of Smith College and the 18th president of Brown University, Ruth J. Simmons is a visionary scholar and academic leader. The first African American to lead a major college or university and the first African American president of an Ivy League institution, Simmons has devoted much of her work to making higher education accessible to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. At Smith, she increased the number of minority applications through innovative outreach initiatives, and at Brown, she instituted a need-blind admission policy. Simmons has held a number of faculty and administrative positions at some of the country’s most prestigious institutions, including Princeton University and Spelman College. She has been a featured speaker on issues related to higher education at the White House, the World Economic Forum and the Clinton Global Initiative. As president of Smith College, she established the country’s first engineering program at a women’s college. Currently, she is a professor of comparative literature and Africana studies at Brown.