College announces commencement speakers, honorary degrees

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will be the speaker for the College’s commencement on June 4. A Nigerian-American writer, Adichie is best known for her works Americanah, We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. Billy Collins, a former U.S. poet laureate and distinguished professor at the City University of New York, will speak the day prior at the Baccalaureate service. Adichie and Collins will both receive honorary degrees from the College, as will Will Dudley ’89, Gina McCarthy and Gavin Schmidt.

Billy Collins, Gina McCarthy, Gavin Schmidt and Will
Dudley ’89 (clockwise) Will receive honorary degrees. Photos courtesy of Suzannah Gilman, Williams College.

Adichie is a MacArthur Fellowship, or “Genius Grant,” recipient, and she has also garnered acclaim for her widely viewed TED talks, “The Danger of a Single Story” and “We Should All Be Feminists,” upon which one of her books is based. In 2013, Adichie received a U.S. National Book Critics Circle Award for Americanah, which was a New York Times Top Ten Best Book of the Year. She received her B.A. from Eastern Connecticut State, her M.F.A. from Johns Hopkins and her M.A. from Yale.

A member of the American Academy Arts and Letters, Collins has published works, including Aimless Love, The Trouble with Poetry and Questions About Angels. Collins holds a B.A. from Holy Cross and a M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Riverside.

Dudley, the current president of Washington and Lee University, served as the College’s provost from 2011 to 2016 and taught in the philosophy department from 1998 to 2011. He is also the vice chair of the board of trustees of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.  Dudley’s works include Understanding German Idealism and Hegel, Nietzsche and Philosophy: Thinking Freedom. He received his B.A. in mathematics and philosophy from the College and earned his Ph.D. in philosophy at Northwestern.

McCarthy served as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2013 to 2017 and, prior to that, as the assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation from 2009 to 2013. She has also served as the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and deputy secretary of the Massachusetts Office of Commonwealth Development. She holds a B.A. from University of Massachusetts at Boston and a M.S. from Tufts.

Schmidt is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, where he oversees and conducts climate, oceanographic and atmospheric research. He is well-known for his work in communicating scientific findings to the larger community, with works including Climate Change: Picturing the Science, and was the recipient of the inaugural American Geophysical Union Climate Communication Prize. He received a B.A from Oxford and a Ph.D. from University College London.

The College will award these honorary degrees at its 228th Commencement on June 4.