College selects five honorary degree recipients for commencement

The College will award five honorary degrees at the Commencement Exercise for the Class of 2014 on June 8.

Recipients Michael R. Bloomberg and Karen Armstrong will deliver the commencement and baccalaureate speeches, respectively. Former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, outgoing Chairman of the Williams Board of Trustees Greg Avis ’80 and former President and CEO of the Asia Society Vishakha Desai, will also receive degrees.

According to annual procedure, the honorary degree candidates were selected by the Honorary Degrees Committee, which consists of faculty members from each of the three divisions, staff members, trustees and students. These selections then go on to the College’s Board of Trustees for final approval.

Greg Avis

Avis has served as a trustee since 2001 and as chairman since 2008 for the College. During his tenure, he responded to the global financial crisis, chaired the Presidential Search Committee in 2009 and diversified the makeup of the board. Avis oversaw the construction of new facilities and the development of the Investment Office. He helped break the record for fundraising done by a liberal arts college as the co-chair of the College’s most recent comprehensive campaign. The College honored Avis with its Bicentennial Medal for distinguished achievement in 2006.

Avis co-founded Summit Partners, a growth equity investment firm, in 1984. He opened the firm’s California office in 1993. As managing director, Avis saw the company grow to be one of the largest private equity firms with nearly $15 billion in total assets. He served on numerous non-profit boards, including those of the James Irvine Foundation, ARTSTOR, New Profit Inc., the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the National Outdoor Leadership School. Avis also teaches mathematics at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto, Calif.

Steven Chu

Chu served as the Secretary of Energy for the United States from 2009 until his resignation in 2013. During his tenure, Chu oversaw the spending of $39 billion in grants for clean-energy projects, the management of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil leak and the assistance of the government of Japan after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

Chu served as a professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He also served as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and as a Theodore and Francis Geballe Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford. For his work developing the theory of laser cooling of atoms at Bell Labs, he was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. Chu is now the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of Physics and Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Academia Sinica. He holds 10 patents and has published more than 250 scientific and technical papers.

Vishakha Desai

A scholar of Asian arts and culture, Desai served from 2004 to 2012 as president of the Asia Society, a non-profit educational organization with 11 centers in the United States, Asia and Australia.  President Barack Obama appointed her to the National Commission on Museums and Libraries in 2012. Desai was a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and served as president of the Association of Art Museum Directors. Additionally, she worked on the boards of the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, College Art Association, ArtTable and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. She has taught at Columbia, Boston University and the University of Massachusetts. Desai now serves as a special advisor for global affairs to the president of Columbia University, a professor of professional practice in Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, a senior advisor to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, an advisory trustee of the Brookings Institution and a trustee of the Bertelsmann Foundation and a member of the Citizen’s Committee for New York.