(AMHERST, Mass., April 26, 2022) — Eight influential leaders in business, economics, neuroscience, art curation, geoscience, higher education, poetry and literature will receive honorary degrees from Amherst College during two Commencement exercises this year. The first event, which will celebrate the class of 2022, will take place on Sunday, May 29, at 10 a.m. on the school’s main quad, while the second, a COVID-19-delayed in-person Commencement for the class of 2020, will occur on Saturday, June 11, at 3 p.m. at the same location. Amherst President Biddy Martin will deliver the traditional Commencement addresses—the final two she will give as president of the College—at both ceremonies.
The 2022 honorands will speak in a series of conversations that are free and open to the public on May 28, and the 2020 honorands will make brief remarks during the graduation ceremony on June 10. Schedules for both weekends are available on the Commencement website.
The 2022 honorary degree recipients are:
- Ken Chenault, chairman and managing director of General Catalyst and former chairman and chief executive officer of American Express
- Raj Chetty, William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University
- Charles Gilbert ’71, Arthur and Janet Ross Professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology at The Rockefeller University
- Brooke Kamin Rapaport ’84, deputy director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator at New York City’s Madison Square Park Conservancy
The 2020 honorary degree recipients are:
- Andrea Dutton ’95, professor of geoscience at the University of Wisconsin–Madison
- Maud Mandel, president of Williams College
- Sonia Sanchez, poet and playwright; the first African American woman to teach at Amherst (in the 1970s) and the second person to chair the Black studies department
- Gary Shteyngart, bestselling author of Our Country Friends and other novels
The Honorees and Their Accomplishments
Ken Chenault is chairman and a managing director of the venture capital firm General Catalyst. Previously, Chenault was chairman and chief executive officer of American Express, a position he held from 2001 to 2018. Upon his retirement from American Express, Warren Buffett, the company’s largest shareholder, stated, “Ken’s been the gold standard for corporate leadership and the benchmark that I measure others against.” He’s been honored by multiple publications, including Fortune magazine, which named him one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders in its inaugural 2014 list and, most recently, in 2021. TIME celebrated Chenault together with Ken Frazier in its 100 Most Influential People of 2021 list for their corporate and social activism—specifically, for mobilizing hundreds of corporate leaders to advocate for equitable voting rights in the United States and for co-founding OneTen, a coalition of leading executives committed to upskilling, hiring and advancing 1 million Black Americans over the next 10 years into family-sustaining jobs. Chenault serves on the boards of Airbnb, Berkshire Hathaway, Chief, Guild Education and the Harvard Corp. He also serves on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations, including the Smithsonian Institution’s Advisory Council for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Nadarajan “Raj” Chetty
Nadarajan “Raj” Chetty is the William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University and the director of Opportunity Insights, which studies the science of economic opportunity: How can we give children from all backgrounds better chances of succeeding? Chetty’s research combines empirical evidence and economic theory to help design more effective government policies. His work on topics ranging from tax policy and unemployment insurance to education and affordable housing has been widely cited in academia, media outlets and Congressional testimony. Chetty received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 2003 and is one of the youngest tenured professors in the institution’s history. Before joining the faculty at Harvard, he was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University. Chetty has received numerous awards for his research, including a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and the John Bates Clark medal, given to the economist under 40 whose work is judged to have made the most significant contribution to the field.
Andrea Dutton ’95
Andrea Dutton is a professor in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is an international expert in the study of past climate and sea-level change using carbonate sedimentology and isotope geochemistry. Her main research focus is to establish the behavior of sea level and polar ice sheets during past warm periods to better inform us about future sea-level rise. Dutton also has played an active role in science communication on climate change and sea-level rise; she is heavily quoted in popular media, is engaged in public lectures and TV documentaries, and has testified on matters related to climate change before a U.S. Senate subcommittee. Earlier this year, Dutton spoke at a White House roundtable discussion about the urgency of climate action. She is a MacArthur Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar, and a Fellow of the Geological Society of America. She was also named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “25 People Shaping the Future in Tech, Science, Medicine, Activism and More.”
Charles Gilbert ’71
Charles Gilbert graduated summa cum laude from Amherst in 1971, with a focus on biophysics. He obtained his M.D. and Ph.D. in neurobiology from Harvard Medical School in 1977. In 1983, he joined the faculty of The Rockefeller University as assistant professor of neurobiology. He became associate professor in 1985 and professor and head of laboratory in 1991, and currently serves as the Arthur and Janet Ross Professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurobiology. Gilbert’s research focuses on the brain mechanisms of visual perception and learning, including how cortical circuits operate to analyze visual images and to encode visual memories. In addition to his many scientific contributions, Gilbert has served on a number of scientific advisory committees for foundations supporting the research of early-career investigators, including the Klingenstein-Simons fellowship program (as chair) and the Rita Allen, Pew and McKnight Foundations. He has served on advisory committees for numerous research institutions in various countries, and on the editorial boards of several neuroscience journals. Gilbert is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Maud S. Mandel, Williams College’s 18th president, earned her B.A. from Oberlin College in 1989 and her master’s degree and Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan in 1993 and 1998, respectively. She moved to Brown University as a visiting assistant professor, eventually becoming professor of history and Judaic studies and dean of the college—roles in which she served until joining Williams as president in July 2018. At Williams, Mandel has supported the faculty’s continued development of the curriculum as the central element in a broad educational vision, one that encompasses attention to the role of technology in the liberal arts, co-curricular programs, global and community engagement, residential life and career exploration. She has encouraged a culture of shared governance and participation, as well as further investments in diversity, equity and inclusion, sustainability and access. An accomplished historian, Mandel’s scholarship looks at how policies and practices of inclusion and exclusion in 20th-century France have affected Jews, Armenians and Muslim North Africans, among other minorities. In addition to her presidential duties, President Mandel holds the title of Professor of History and teaches as her schedule allows.
Brooke Kamin Rapaport ’84
Brooke Kamin Rapaport ’84 is deputy director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator at Madison Square Park Conservancy in New York, where she is responsible for the outdoor public sculpture program of commissioned work by contemporary artists. She was commissioner and curator of the U.S. Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale with the exhibition Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertà. Through the Conservancy in 2017, she founded and launched the Public Art Consortium, a national initiative of museum, public art and sculpture park colleagues. She was assistant curator and associate curator of contemporary art at the Brooklyn Museum, where she organized numerous exhibitions and wrote corresponding catalogues. She also served as guest curator at The Jewish Museum in New York. Rapaport sits on the boards of three artist-endowed foundations: the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation, the Al Held Foundation and the Von Rydingsvard and Greengard Foundation. She was board chair of Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum from 2008 to 2012 and continues on the Mead board. She is a cum laude graduate of Amherst, earned an M.A. in art history from Rutgers University and was a Helena Rubinstein Fellow in the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program.
An acclaimed poet, playwright, teacher, activist and leader of the Black Arts Movement who became, in 1972, the first Black woman faculty member at Amherst College, Sonia Sanchez is heralded as an artistic visionary. The author of more than a dozen collections of poetry, as well as short stories, critical essays, plays and children’s books, she is the recipient of numerous awards and literary prizes, including the Langston Hughes Poetry Award, the Harper Lee Award, the Poetry Society of America’s Robert Frost Medal, the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, the Academy of American Poets’ Wallace Stevens Award, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Lifetime Achievement Award and, most recently, the Edward MacDowell Medal, a lifetime achievement honor started in 1960 and previously awarded to Robert Frost, Toni Morrison and Stephen Sondheim, among others. Sanchez is a contributing editor at The Black Scholar and The Journal of African Studies, has taught as a professor at eight universities and has read her poetry around the world. She was the first Presidential Fellow at Temple University, where she held the Laura Carnell Chair until her retirement in 1999.
Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and came to the United States seven years later. His 2002 debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. Shteyngart’s second novel, Absurdistan (2006), was named one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review. His next novel, Super Sad True Love Story (2010), won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize and was followed by Lake Success (2018) and Our Country Friends (2021). He has also published a memoir, Little Failure (2014), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His books have been published in 30 countries. Shteyngart holds an undergraduate degree from Oberlin College and a master’s from Hunter College, at which he has also taught. He currently serves as an associate professor of writing at Columbia University.
About Amherst College
Amherst College prepares students to use ideas to make a difference in the world. Since its founding in 1821 in Western Massachusetts, Amherst has demonstrated steadfast confidence in the value of the liberal arts and the importance of critical thinking. Today, its financial aid program is among the most substantial in the nation, and its student body is among the most diverse. Small classes, an open curriculum and a singular focus on undergraduate education ensure that leading scholars engage daily with talented, curious students, equipping them for leadership in an increasingly global and complex world.