Seven people from the worlds of art, entertainment, mental health, science and mathematics will receive honorary degrees at Williams College’s two hundred tenth Commencement. President of the College Harry C. Payne will confer the degrees on Sunday, June 6, at 10 a.m. on West College Lawn. Actor Christopher Reeve will give the principal address. On Saturday, June 5, writer Paul Auster will give the Baccalaureate address.
The honorary degree recipients and their degrees are Paul Auster, Doctor of Letters; Shirley A. Jackson, Doctor of Science; Thomas Krens ’69, Doctor of Fine Arts; Constance and Stephen A. Lieber ’47, Doctors of Humane Letters; Curtis T. McMullen ’80, Doctor of Science; and Christopher Reeve, Doctor of Humane Letters.
Well-known as a poet and writer of experimental fiction, The Times Literary Supplement has called Auster “one of America’s most spectacularly inventive writers.” Auster earned his B.A. and M.A. in English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he discovered French poets and started his writing career as a poet, translator, and essayist.
For years he labored in relative obscurity until the mid-1980s when he began to attract critical attention with his New York Trilogy, a trio of post-modern detective novels. Completed in 1987, the trilogy marked him as a talent to watch.
In addition to the New York Trilogy which contains the City of Glass, Ghosts and the Locked Room, he is author of In the Country of Last Things and Moon Palace, among others. He has written widely, including poetry, nonfiction, screenplays and a memoir, the Invention of Solitude.
Shirley Ann Jackson
Jackson has spent her career researching and teaching about particle physics — the branch of physics that uses theories and mathematics to predict the existence of subatomic particles and the forces that bind them together.
Graduating from Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., in 1964 as valedictorian, she entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she received her B.S. degree in physics, and became the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. from MIT in 1973.
Throughout her career she has focused on helping other female and black scientists. As a student at MIT, she organized and worked with the Black Student Union as its co-chairman for two years and as advisor through graduate school. She set up recruiting committees under MIT’s auspices and won a commitment from the university to make admission requirements more flexible.
Jackson has been named president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and will be inaugurated as its 18th president in September, 1999.
Krens was director of the Williams College Museum of Art before being named director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1988. When he was named, a writer for The New York Times said Krens represented the kind of manager institutions now require—someone with “high-tech skills, entrepreneurial know-how and global ambitions.”
Calling on these skills, know-how, and ambition, Krens has parlayed the Guggenheim’s enterprise, notable for its European contemporary art, into a powerhouse adding to the museums in New York and Venice, pocket-size Guggenheims in SoHo and Berlin and the new Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, which has won kudos for its architecture by Frank Gehry.
Krens received his B.A. from Williams College in 1969 where he was a political economics major but took several studio art classes. He was appointed assistant professor of art history at Williams in 1972.
He became director of Williams College Museum of Art in 1980, and presided over a six-year $8 million expansion program that doubled the size of the museum with a building designed by Charles Moore.
Locally Krens is, perhaps, best known for conceiving MASS MoCA, an art museum in North Adams, Mass. in a cluster of empty mill buildings, for which he spearheaded public and political support around its inception in 1985.
Constance and Stephen A. Lieber
In 1963, the Liebers founded the Essel Foundation, whose major philanthropic interest is scientific research aimed at better treatments and cures for severe psychiatric disorders, notably schizophrenia.
The Essel Foundation has been the major supporter of the National Alliance for Research of Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), which is headed by Constance Lieber as president. This organization, which began providing research grants in 1987, is the largest private sector, philanthropic contribution-supported funder of research in severe mental illnesses. It has provided more than 1,000 research grants to scientists in 145 universities and medical research centers in the United States and seven other countries.
In 1987 the organization established the Lieber Prize, an annual award given for extraordinary achievement in schizophrenia research. The winners are selected by the NARSAD Scientific Council. The council supports a number of research and educational projects, including the Williams College Neuroscience Program.
Curtis T. McMullen
McMullen, who is Class of 1980 at Williams, teaches at Harvard University, from which he received his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1985. McMullen has made contributions in numerous fields of mathematics, and in August received the Fields Medal, the highest award for mathematicians.
He was awarded the prestigious gold medal primarily in recognition of his work finding the relationship between the geometry of three-dimensional objects and the universal structure that occurs in the transition from regular to chaotic physical behavior.
“There are many practical applications to this work,” he said in an interview in the Harvard Gazette, “such as more detailed knowledge of how heart attacks begin, how earthquakes start, and how an asteroid might suddenly change its path and head for Earth.” The Fields Medal is presented every four years together with a prize of 15,000 Canadian dollars to four mathematicians who are not more than 40 years old, consistent with the donor’s wish that the awards recognize both existing work and the promise of future achievement.
Reeve, a superb athlete, did his own stunts in films and was an avid outdoorsman, but a 1995 equestrian accident, when he was thrown and broke his neck, left him a quadriplegic.
He has become a national spokesman for the disabled and for spinal cord research that may someday help him and 250,000 paralyzed Americans regain movement.
He also continues his work in theatre. Breathing with the help of a ventilator, which inflates his lungs, Reeve directed the television film In the Gloaming, starring Glenn Close and Whoopie Goldberg and starred in ABC’s recent remake of the 1954 film thriller Rear Window , for which he won the 1999 Screen Actors’ Guild Award for Best Actor.
Beginning at age eight, he appeared in school plays, and in 1968 at age 15 he got a summer apprenticeship at the Williamstown Theatre Festival (WTF).