Six Honorary Degrees to be conferred by Payne

President of the College Harry C. Payne will confer six honorary degrees at Williams College’s 209th Commencement to be held June 7, at 10 a.m. on West College Lawn.

Nancy Kassebaum Baker

Nancy Kassebaum Baker (R-Kansas) served three terms in the United States Senate, from December 1978 to January 1997.

At the age of 42, in the midst of raising four college and high-school aged children, she ventured hesitantly from Kansas and school board civics, as a caseworker for Senator James B. Pearson of Kansas. She became intoxicated enough to dare run in a nine-person crap-shoot of a Senate primary fight that suddenly developed in 1978. She won and then defeated Democrat Bill Roy for the second Senatorial seat from Kansas.

Writing about Kassebaum in 1995, columnist Meg Greenfield of Newsweek proclaimed “Both Kassebaum’s record and political persona confound much of the current conventional political wisdom; she eludes, as she has from her first days in the Senate, all kinds of clichés and generalities and certitudes about Republicans, women in high office, and above all, long-term (17 years now) government service.”

Phillip Glass

Phillip Glass is one of the few genuinely popular composers of contemporary classical music. Always the innovator, he is credited with developing “musical minimalism,” a style of music built from repetitions of the same few fragments. Glass’ music has become famous, in part, because he manages to be both “avant-garde and accessible.” He has fashioned his own inimitable aesthetic, creating “personal, specific, and original” pieces whose style, like Glass’ musical influences, has shifted over the course of his career.

When he went to Paris and worked on a film score with India’s best known musician, Ravi Shankar, he discovered the idea for a new kind of Western music, built up from tiny melodic fragments. Glass repeated these fragments over and over, combining them into shifting rhythmic groups which would give the music its direction, structure and meaning. And thus, musical minimalism, concerned with the “grammar” of music, was born.

By 1974, he had composed a large collection of new music, not only for use by the theater company Mabou Mines, but mainly for his own performing group, the Phillip Glass Ensemble. This period cumulated in Music in 12 Parts, a three-hour summation of Glass’ New Music, and reached its apogee in 1976 with the Phillip Glass/Robert Wilson opera Einstein on the Beach. This four and a half-hour opera, a poetic look at Albert Einstein, is now seen as a landmark in 20th century music-theater.

Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma has been playing cello for 39 of his 43 years. He started by practicing on an up-ended viola mounted on a pin, and has gone on to become one of the most accomplished, popular and exciting soloists in the musical world. An enthusiastic performer who communicates his love of playing to the audience, Yo-Yo Ma has overcome the limited solo repertoire for the cello both by commissioning new works and performing joint works with a wide range of artists.

J.S. Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, one of the cornerstones of his repertoire, have been part of Yo-Yo Ma’s musical life from an early age. Over the past few years, stimulated by Albert Schweitzer’s description of the pictorial element in Bach’s works, Ma has been re-exploring this music alongside creative artists from a variety of disciplines. The results of this collaboration have been captured in a series of films—one for each suite—entitled “Inspired by Bach.”

Yo-Yo Ma seeks to expand the standard concerto repertoire for cello through both performances of lesser-known music of the 20th century and the commissioning of new concertos. One of Ma’s goals is to understand and demonstrate how music serves as a means of communication in Western and non-Western cultures. To that end, he has studied such diverse genres as native Chinese music and the music of the Kalahari bush people of Africa.

William D. Phillips

William D. Phillips, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics with two others for his work on the development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.

The three scientists were chosen for their development, in the 1980s, of a novel research technology that opened up a new field of scientific study. Their technique, remarkable for its simplicity and low cost, has become a tool used by many researchers in physics for the manipulation and control of atoms and structures on an atomic scale.

According to a press release from the Nobel Committee, this new method of investigation has “contributed greatly to increasing our knowledge of the interplay between radiation and matter. In particular, it has opened up the way to a deeper understanding of the quantum-physical behavior of gasses at low temperatures. The methods may lead to the design of more precise atomic clocks for use, for example, in space navigation and accurate determination of position.”

Jody Williams

Jody Williams is the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Williams and the ICBL were awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for instigating talks that led representatives of 121 countries to sign the Ottawa Treaty, aimed at stopping the production, deployment, stockpiling, and sale of anti-personnel land mines. Although Williams stepped down as head of ICBL in February, she has said that she will continue to lobby governments to support the treaty.

The treaty is historic, not only in its intent, but because never before has a group of small, non-governmental organizations so successfully pressured the world-wide community to enact a global ban so quickly.

In her Nobel acceptance speech, she said that landmines, “once sown, cannot tell the difference between a solider or a civilian. The landmine is eternally prepared to take victims. In common parlance, it is the perfect solider, the ‘eternal sentry.’ The war ends, the landmine goes on killing.”

Peter Willmott

Peter Willmott is chairman and CEO of Willmott Services, Inc. He has held corporate leadership positions for a number of years, most recently as president and CEO of Zenith Electronics Corporation. A member of Zenith’s board since 1990, Willmott was selected for his “credentials and good understanding of the company.”

From 1983 to 1989, Willmott served as chairman, president, and CEO of Carson Pirie Scott & Co., which operates 24 department stores and specialty stores in Illinois and Indiana. Willmott was also president and CEO of Federal Express from 1980 to 1983, and served as the company’s chief financial officer from 1974 to 1980. Willmott began his management career in the mid-1960s, as vice-president and treasurer of I.T.T. Continental Banking Company from 1966 to 1974.

Willmott, a 1959 graduate of Williams, has served 15 years as a member of the Board of Trustees and 10 as chair of its Executive Committee. During that time, he presided as national chair of the College’s Third Century Campaign and as the chair of the most recent Presidential Search Committee.

Speaking on his motivations for becoming a Williams trustee, Willmott claimed, “Most important for me has been that I’m so thankful for the education that I received here. It was a great learning experience. I’m honored to have the opportunity to give something back to the institution.”

Willmott is active in a variety of civic causes, including the Chicago Symphony, the Children’s Memorial Hospital, and the Chicago public school system.