Bowdoin to Award Three Honorary Degrees at Commencement

Bowdoin will bestow three honorary degrees at its 213th Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 26, 2018. The ceremony will begin at 10:00 a.m. on the Quad in front of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

This year’s honorary degree recipients are MacArthur “genius grant” recipient and Nigerian-born author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, chemist and Nobel laureate Thomas R. Cech, and former diplomat and government official Susan E. Rice, a Rhodes Scholar with deep family ties to Bowdoin.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters

In 2015 TIME magazine named novelist, nonfiction writer, and short-story writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” for writing stories that challenge narratives built on stereotypes of race, gender, politics, and national identity. Born in Enugu, Nigeria, Adichie studied medicine and pharmacology at the University of Nigeria for a year before coming to the United States to pursue a degree in communications and political science. After two years at Drexel University, she graduated summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2001 and then completed a master of arts degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. In 2003, she won the O. Henry Prize for her short story “The American Embassy.” Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (Best Debut, Fiction).

Adichie was a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University in 2005 and earned an MA in African history from Yale University in 2008. She was chosen as a MacArthur Foundation Fellow (popularly known as a “genius grant”) in 2008. A fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in 2011-2012 allowed her to complete Americanah, her third novel, which would win the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. In addition to her four novels, she has published two books of essays, We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, as well as works of short fiction and magazine articles.

Her books have been published in thirty languages, and her TED talks on “The Danger of a Single Narrative” and feminism have reached a worldwide audience. A writer who has established herself as a strong and clear voice, while at the same time embracing and encouraging the complexities of individual circumstances and stories, Adichie divides her time between lives the United States and in Nigeria.

Dr. Thomas R. Cech, Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science

One of the foremost research scientists of his generation, 1989 Nobel Prize recipient Dr. Thomas Cech researches the nature of noncoding ribonucleic acids (RNAs), RNA-protein complexes, and telomeres (compound structures at the ends of chromosomes). His long-term research seeks to understand how disruptions to the regulation of these mechanisms in the body contribute to cancers and other diseases.

A native of Iowa City, Iowa, Cech graduated from Grinnell College in 1970 and earned a PhD in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1975. Following postdoctoral research at MIT, Dr. Cech joined the faculty at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1978. He currently holds the position of distinguished professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and director of the University of Colorado BioFrontiers Institute. From 2000-2009 he was president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The author or coauthor of more than 400 articles in scientific journals, Dr. Cech has also been active on the editorial boards of journals (Cell, Science, RNA, Genes and Development), scientific advisory boards, and in professional societies. He is widely respected as a colleague, educator, mentor, and public speaker. In addition to the 1989 Nobel Prize in chemistry, his many honors include memberships in the United States National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Newcomb Cleveland Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Medal of Science, the Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins Medal from the British Biochemical Society, the Gregor Mendel Medal from the Czech Academy of Sciences, the Othmer Gold Medal, and an American Cancer Society lifetime professorship. Dr. Cech delivered the James Stacy Coles Lecture and a public lecture at Bowdoin in March of 2003 on his groundbreaking research.

Susan E. Rice, Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws

Ambassador Susan E. Rice has an extraordinary record of service to the nation as a member of the National Security Council, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, United Nations ambassador, and national security advisor. Rice also has strong family ties to Bowdoin; her mother, the late Dr. Lois Dickson Rice, received an honorary degree from the College in 1984, while four uncles and two cousins are counted among Bowdoin’s alumni.

A native of Washington, DC, and a 1986 graduate of Stanford University as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, she studied at New College at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, earning MPhil (1988) and DPhil (1990) degrees there. Rice worked as a management consultant for the firm of McKinsey & Company before being named to the National Security Council in 1993, where she served as director for international organizations and peacekeeping, special assistant to the president, and senior director for African affairs. From 1997-2001 she was the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

In 2002, Rice joined the Brookings Institution as a senior fellow, where she focused on the implications of global poverty, weak and failing states, and transnational threats to security. A foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, Rice was nominated and confirmed by unanimous consent as US ambassador to the United Nations. She was the first African American woman (and the second-youngest person) to represent the US at the UN. In the second term of the Obama administration, she served as national security advisor. She has served on the boards of a number of organizations, including the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, the Bureau of National Affairs, Partnership for Public Service, the US Fund for UNICEF, the Atlantic Council, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Aspen Strategy Group. In 2017, French President Francois Hollande presented Rice with the Award of Commander, the Legion of Honor of France, for her contributions to Franco-American relations.

41 thoughts on “Bowdoin to Award Three Honorary Degrees at Commencement

  1. Edward J, Calabrese

    I am very disappointed in the selction of Susan Rice for this award. Her most prominent memory for me was her deliberating lying to the American public on five TV stations about the Libra disaster one Sunday morning. She was certainly carrying out the directions of persons above her. However, this speaks volumes of her character. There were many other choices that could have been excellent but not her. This shows terrible judgement and poor leadership.

  2. Robert, Class of '02

    Geez, I saw the last name and got excited. Thought for sure Bowdoin was honoring our former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleeza Rice. How disappointing to see its only Susan Rice. Ho hum :-/

  3. George Lewis

    Pleased and proud that Bowdoin will be honoring Ambassador Susan Rice. With her strong family connections to the College and her outstanding record of public service, she is an excellent choice.

  4. Walter Gans

    I,too, like the first two commentators above, am deeply disappointed by the selection of Susan Rice. Her excellent credentials preceding her role as National Security Advisor augured well but she failed miserably in her final & most important government job and should not be applauded for it. The College regrettably is falling prey to political correctness in her selection.

  5. Martin Gray ‘59

    The selection of Dr. Susan Rice as an honorary degree recipient demeans the process and stains the reputation of the college. Much has been spoken about her lying to the American public about the tragedy in Benghazi, Libya, and that would have been enough, in my mind, to find a candidate with higher standards of integrity for this award. Much is yet to be revealed about her role in the unmasking of American citizens in direct violation of the fourth amemendment to our Constitution. I condemn her selection for an honorary Bowdoin degree.

  6. Vin DiCara Class of 1972

    Mr. Calabrese may be a fellow Italian but I must disagree with his characterization of Susan Rice. I think that she is a most worthy recipient, especially because of her family’s connection to Portland, Maine and Bowdoin. What is the process to select individuals for Honorary Degrees, by the way? It would be helpful if that were communicated in some way. By the way, the other recipients are excellent choices, as well.

  7. Jon Clayborne, Class of '69

    I had no sooner read an email from The Hollywood Reporter noting Netflix’s appointment of Susan Rice to its board, when I received the announcement that Bowdoin will be presenting Ms. Rice with an honorary degree at this year’s commencement. As a distinguished public servant, whose intelligence and abilities have been beneficial to the nation, Susan Rice is a most deserving honoree.

  8. Phil Goodwin '81

    Susan Rice? Here are two words I guarantee will not be in her presentation: Benghazi and unmasking.

  9. Alan Messer

    Disappointed, although not surprised, that so many have bought the line about Dr. Rice having lied. Her reputation deserves burnishing and I’m delighted and proud that Bowdoin will honor her.

  10. R.C. Pratt

    Susan Rice is a terrible choice for an Honorary Degree. Her performance before the national media concerning the Benghazi fiasco is an indictment of her character and should disqualify her.

  11. George Hillhouse '88

    I personally believe honoring Amb. Rice with an Honorary Degree is a mistake. The role she played in spreading disinformation about both the Benghazi attack and Bergdahl’s capture and service should disqualify her. Ask yourselves the following: had she done the exact same thing as a member of the current administration, would Bowdoin still have selected her for this honor?

  12. Jared Liu '99

    Susan Rice is a first-rate diplomat, thought leader, and American. I am delighted to learn she has such strong connections to College, too. Well chosen, Bowdoin.

  13. George Nicholis

    Disappointed with the selection of Susan Rice. I lived at Bowdoin in the day and age we had an Honor Code and I remember how proud I felt to be part of a school that requires honorable behaviors from their students. I don’t believe her performance in the Obama administration during Benghazi nor her role in unmasking live up to that code.

  14. Dick Burns

    I couldn’t disagree more with the naysayers to our Bowdoin College awarding Susan Rice an honorary degree. She represents the best this Country has to offer. Her service to the Nation was exemplary. While Bowdoin honors her, her receiving a Bowdoin honorary degree honors her.

    Dick Burns ’58

  15. Barbara Oesterlin-Heath

    I am excited about the college’s honoree choices for this year. A Nobel Prize chemist, a former UN Ambassador and a young African novelist. All three should bring an interesting mix of conversation to our new graduates. We are living in some interesting times.

  16. Brian Warren

    I have been struggling with the 3rd nomination as well. As an old soldier just can’t agree. How sad. Those that serve deserve much better and in her final hours she certainly didn’t measure up in my mind.

  17. B. Bowden

    The partisan nature of these comments undermines the celebratory spirit of commencement and suggests to me that articles announcing commencement speakers should not be open to comment. Let’s focus rather on the many achievements of the Bowdoin Class of 2018!

  18. Dr Howard "Chick" Marshall

    The honorary degree for Susan Rice is an absolute disgrace. Her record for deceit and lying is an insult to Bowdoin and the pursuit of truth. What a sad day for Bowdoin. How did this happen?

  19. Peter Fuller ‘59

    Shame on the committee charged with the responsibility’ for nominating Honorary degree candidates. The selection of Susan Rice is a disgrace! The fact that Bowdoin’s leadership and Board approved is equally troubling. I fear you have offended many patriotic alumni.

  20. Bob Ness, Class of '65

    Reading the announcement of Susan Rice being honored at the 2018 Commencement caused an immediate, visceral response, akin to a punch in my stomach. Her Liberal philosophy has no part here. Potentially playing fast and loose with critical security tools for purely domestic political reasons sets my teeth on edge. Throughout my 26 plus years of service in the United States Army, no activity created more swift and sure punishment than did the mishandling of security matters. Mishandling of monies ran a close second, if not a tie, in the negative attention department, but it was the financial transgressors who received the more publicity. After all, security matters needed to be kept under wraps. Years of stellar, faithful service prior to a misstep counted not toward whether or not punishment would be administered; they might mitigate the size of the punishment, however. Will the College rescind the award should she be indicted for her role in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court violations now being investigated by Congress? Would it not be better for the reputation of the College to wait until she is either cleared or convicted to confer? Family ties are great; they are wonderful; but families can be dragged into an aiding and abetting mess should they willfully turn a blind eye to indiscretions that warrant legal action committed by a member of that family.

  21. David H Peirez

    Those of my fellow Bowdoin alumni who find it “disgraceful” that Susan Rice is to be honored have a very narrow mind set. She served her nation with intelligence and integrity, not like the current occupants of the Trump cabinet. No scandal, no $30,000 dining table for an office, no first class airfare sightseeing borne by taxpayers, no charges of harassmenr, only class and intelligence. Indeed,the only “issue” is the disgusting 2 year witch -hunt over Bengazi involving her words on TV ,but not that her actions caused the loss of life. “What this is all about”, as the saying goes, is more anti-Obama and FOX phony news extremism. I applaud her selection to be honored by by my College.

  22. Amy Bernheim

    I am very disappointed that Bowdoin is presenting Susan Rice with an honorary degree. What a horrible decision. It’s a very sad day for Bowdoin and for the reputation of the College.

  23. Richard Waldron '70

    I stopped giving to the Alumni Fund 25+ years ago because the college was moving too far left, restricting individual rights of association. The choice of Susan Rice for an honorary degree confirms my decision. News reports state that she was responsible for unmasking US citizens for unconstitutional monitoring of their communications. The use of government agencies to affect election outcomes is against all that the Founders sought to prevent Government power from negating the will of the people.

  24. Brian Barron- 75

    The selection of Susan Rice is an affront to all members of the Bowdoin community. Ties to the College are not relevant. Honesty and character are. It is a fact that Susan Rice lied to the American people regarding the Benghazi fiasco as she was well aware the attack was a coordinated terrorist effort and not the spontaneous reaction to a video. Bowdoin has joined the ever growing list of politically correct institutions that cast truth and integrity aside. Shamefull.

  25. Scott

    What’s up, P Bears? OK, look. The JFK Library honored George HW Bush with it’s Profile of Courage Award even though he famously couldn’t remember where he was on Nov 22, 1963, and all that that implies when we come to find out his amnesia was caused by phoning in misleading tips to the FBI for the CIA. So what if Bowdoin’s honor is corrupt? It’s only a small part of what the American culture has become with the elephant of National Security in the room. Talk about “The Danger of a Single Narrative”!!!

  26. Mitchel Jurasek '21

    I am very happy that Susan Rice will be a recipient of an honorary degree. It makes me sad to see what I can only guess are a bunch of old, white men degrading the contributions she has made to this country. We should be proud to recognize an outstanding black female this year. Furthermore, I think a majority of students graduating and attending will be pleased with this and they are the ones who really should have a say.

  27. James Nichols

    Critics of the selection of Susan Rice for this honor are really arguing for a conservative veto power over the choice of honorary degree recipients – their own misguided version of “policical correctness”. Let’s bear in mind that freedom of speech is only meaningful (and difficult) when one does not agree with the content.

  28. Walter Gans

    In future comments should be sought by the college / committee BEFORE not after the selection has been made. What otherwise is the point?

  29. Mac Campbell

    I’ve never understood the purpose of awarding honorary degrees, but in Ms. Rice, Bowdoin could not have selected a more divisive and ethically challenged individual; a highly questionable and disappointing choice! And for the record Lee did NOT receive an honorary degree from The College, but appropriately Ulysses S. Grant did. Bowdoin did bestow an honorary degree on Jefferson Davis before the Civil War primarily due to his service in President Pierce’s (’24) cabinet; historically a choice that was later also embarrassing and divisive.

  30. Edward Poole, Class of 1982.

    Martin Gray above said it best. The selection of Dr. Susan Rice as an honorary degree recipient demeans the process and stains the reputation of the college. She lied to the American people about Benghazi, and Bowdoin should find a candidate with higher standards of integrity for this award. Much is yet to be revealed about her role in the unmasking of American citizens – her latest statement that “I leaked nothing to nobody” is insulting. I have to agree that this is political correctness, and does not permit a thoughtful discussion regarding her selection.

  31. Burroughs 72 / 73

    Honorary degree for Ms. Rice? Near unbelievable and truly disturbing. If she’s not been indicted yet, I expect she soon will be. I had my doubts about the direction of the college when I read about the Mexican-party witch hunt in the mainstream media and several follow up articles in the press about “political correctness”, but this takes the cake. I guess I can’t see contributing any more money to an institution so misguided and/or politically motivated to “honor” Ms. Rice with a degree for the type of “service” she provided to this country. Gen. Chamberlain would be appalled.

  32. Michael J Fiori '74

    Three excellent choices! It is not about “Liberal vs Conservative” or any other specific “agenda” some of which is displayed in the criticism of Dr. Rice. It is about one’s unfaltering commitment to education, purpose, and endeavors that benefit humanity. For those who severely criticize I believe it speaks only of their personal philosophies that excludes those of others who might disagree. Not one among us are without fault or have not made poor decisions. Would those errors in our lives relegate us to inferior than others despite our good endeavors? I am thankful that Bowdoin can see clearly in these matters.

  33. Peter Rigby , "56"

    It is hard to believe that Bowdoin would choose to honor such a politically divisive person with a record of dishonesty to the American people. Ms Rice is now on track for a Federal investigation into the unmasking of American Citizens and well could be indicted for resultant crimes. Could it be that the “deep family ties” to Bowdoin played a role here? In any event it makes my own decision about future support to Bowdoin problematic, given the Administration’s policies,politics and continued lack of political diversity in honorees,faculty and staff.

  34. Peter Henri Dragonas, '59, M D

    I am concerned with the burden placed into the hands of the good Citizens of The State of Maine. The financial cost of a visit to Maine by a politically unpopular and controversial figure will overburden all sectors of this states security and financial resources. The nomination of Susan Rice for an Honorary Degree seems very odd. It happens to coincide with her acceptance to join the Board of NETFLIX. This corporation that has a known record of supporting “The College” with serious financial funds. The CEO, Mr. Hastings is a Bowdoin College graduate. Barack Hussein Obama, Past POTUS is in direct talks with Hastings to use the stage of Netflix as a propaganda platform for Progressive Liberalism and Globalism. This is in direct contrast to the directive for “Critical Thinking in Undergraduate Education”. The continued imbalance of this mandate lies in the responsibility of both Administration and the Board of Trustees. According to press reports, he too is on the list to become a Netflix Board member. Susan Rice has not cleared the hurdles of her performance representing the majority Christians and Jews under her appointment to the United Nations by her former fellow mentor, Barack Obama. I find The Bowdoin anxious to draw the philosophy of Susan Rice directly into the classrooms of Our College, sending the “Mission and Promise of The College” away from a well earned and respected reputation. This work started when James Bowdoin, Governor of Massachusetts, signed the College Charter, when Maine was Massachusetts,two hundred & twenty five years ago . Bowdoin can not afford to show homage to an unpopular politician. Unfortunately, this experiment could jeopardize the participation of many loyal, and wiser alumni who have continued to give of their funds. The Alumni Mission has supported the best interests of today’s and tomorrow’s beneficiaries. “The College” is more important than any individual. To that, the Committee for Honorary Degrees needs to revisit this invitation. Time is of the essence as is the hopes of all Alumni to realize a united country serving the best interests of all Bowdoin graduates as they make historic contributions to “THE COMMON GOOD”. PHD, MD. PS: I am an “Independent” politically using my knowledge to look in both directions.

  35. Brian Barron- 75

    What is guessed as a bunch of old white men referenced in a response above is a bigoted and racist statement indicative of a narrow minded individual. Is this the product of a Bowdoin education? President Rose should consider whether the College is educating or indoctrinating.

  36. Peter F Healey ' 73

    Like many Alums who were recently informed of Susan Rice being selected for an Honorary degree at Commencement, I was incredulous. Sure on paper she is most accomplished having attended the National Cathedral School, Stanford, Oxford and held numerous top level diplomatic jobs in various Democratic Administrations. She also has strong ties to Maine having spent her early life in the Portland area and where her parents I believe still reside.

    My problem is that she is an inveterate liar, she is lacking in judgement and she has been the architect of bad foreign policy. Of all the people you could choose to single out to receive an Honorary Degree and to hold before the graduating Seniors as a shining light to inspire and emulate, she is NOT the one.

    As a refresher, while serving as Undersecretary of African Affairs, she lied about the 1998 attacks on the Kenyan and Tanzanian Embassies as not being of terrorist origin, so as not to undermine misguided US policy re acknowledging a terrorist presence in Africa. You may also recall Osama Bin Laden was located in the Sudan and targeted for elimination around this time (three years before the destruction of the World Trade Center), yet Susan Rice voiced strong objections to taking him out.

    Her performance in September 2012 on the five national Sunday morning talk shows where she presented false talking points of how in Benghazi the loss of Ambassador Stevens and three Navy Seals was all because of an anti-Muslim video that stirred up the locals has been utterly disproven as premeditated lies. Documents show she was prepped by Ben Rhodes and David Plouffe on her talking points despite the real truth being already known, all to make the Administration look good on its failed Libya policy.

    Rice went on the talk shows in May 2014 to sell to the American public the Bowe Bergdahl exchange for four high level Taliban leaders. She argued Bergdahl served with honor and distinction, despite undisputed facts he abandoned his post at a time of war. Oh … and the Taliban Leaders returned to the battlefield.

    Comments made January 16, 2016 by Rice in an NPR interview that Syria had no chemical weapons were disproven by the Washington Post and even a Kerry exit memo to Obama eleven days before Rice’s interview admitted Syria was still using “undeclared” chemical weapons.

    She also was out in front selling the Iranian Nuclear Deal with false statements about its evolution under a new moderate political reality, where in fact nothing had changed.

    And most recently serving as National Security Advisor, Rice was at the center of the “unmasking” of Trump campaign operatives, not for National security concerns, but for purely Political motives. More to come on this I’m sure and which may bubble up inconveniently around the time of Commencement.

    I am disappointed, embarrassed and extremely agitated the College has decided to recognize such a person of questionable morality, who does not know right from wrong and for whom the ends justify the means however questionable. Is this behavior acceptable to the College? Why hold her to be an example to inspire and emulate for our graduating Senior Class. Is that what we want them to be?
    Most agitated and disappointed,
    Peter Healey ’73

  37. John Noyes '64

    “honor”, “honorary”, “honesty”…. and Susan Rice somehow fits? New low for Bowdoin.

    If award meant to provoke, well done.

    Cheap honorary degree does not do a thing to erase her legacy.

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