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.
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.