GC Announces 2017 Honorary Degree Recipients

The Graduate Center will award three honorary degrees and the President’s Distinguished Alumni Medal at its Fifty-Third Commencement Exercises on Friday, June 2, President Chase F. Robinson announced today.
Vanita Gupta, former head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice; acclaimed Egyptian artist Wael Shawky; and economist/climate change expert Nicholas Stern have been selected as this year's honorary degree recipients.

LuAnn Walther (Ph.D. 1978, English), publisher and editor of some of the world’s most revered literature, will receive the 2017 President's Distinguished Alumni Medal.
Additional details about 2017 Commencement are posted here. Read more about this year’s honorands below:


Vanita Gupta (Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa) first rose to national prominence at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where she helped successfully overturn the wrongful drug convictions of 38 individuals in Tulia, Texas.


From 2006 to 2010, she served as a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, where she won a landmark settlement on behalf of immigrant children. That ruling later prompted the Department of Homeland Security to take steps toward reforming the nation’s immigration detention system.

Gupta went on to become the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. In that role, she emerged as one of the nation’s most prominent advocates for social justice. She joined the Justice Department in the fall of 2014, just nine weeks after Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

For the next two years, she met with mayors, police chiefs, and citizens nationwide in an effort to repair the relationships between police departments and their communities—and gained the support of liberal and conservative activists, as well as law enforcement leaders, to find common ground on criminal justice reform.

Gupta has also prosecuted hate crimes and human trafficking, promoted disability rights, protected the rights of LGBT individuals, and fought discrimination in education, employment, housing, lending, and voting—seeking justice, at every stage of her career, for our nation’s most vulnerable residents.

Wael Shawky (Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa) is one of the most celebrated artists from the Middle East, achieving international renown for his use of film, performance, and narrative in work that retells history from a perspective seldom seen in the West.

He is perhaps best known for his epic trilogy of films, featuring puppets and marionettes, that presents the history of the Crusades through an Arab lens. The films were shown at MoMA PS1 in 2015, as part of Shawky’s first solo exhibition at a major U.S. museum. Writing for New York magazine, art critic Jerry Saltz called it “one of the best exhibitions of the season.” 

Shawky’s work is found in museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Tate Collection in London. He has been awarded many prizes, including the Ernst Schering Foundation Art Award in 2011 and the first Mario Merz Prize in 2015.

Shawky was born in Alexandria, Egypt, where he currently lives and works. He is also the founder of MASS Alexandria, an educational space. He earned his BFA in Fine Arts from Alexandria University and a MFA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Arts.


Lord Nicholas Stern (Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa) made headline news around the world when he published the 700-page “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change,” a groundbreaking report examining the economic impact of climate change.


Stern, who is currently Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, is world-renowned for his research on the economics of global warming. He has led the Grantham Research Institute since its founding in 2008 at the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he is also the IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government and the Head of the India Observatory.

A former chief economic advisor to the UK government, Stern served as the Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank from 2000 to 2003. He also played a key role in Europe’s economic development as the Chief Economist and Senior Advisor to the Director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Stern is the author of more than 15 books and 100 articles, and currently serves as President of the British Academy and is also a Fellow of the Royal Society. He has held academic appointments at the University of Oxford, the University of Warwick, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the École Polytechnique, and the Collège de France in Paris, the Indian Statistical Institute in Bangalore and Delhi, and the People’s University of China in Beijing.


LuAnn Walther (President’s Distinguished Alumni Medal) is the publisher and editor of works of literature by many of the world’s most revered contemporary and classic authors.

Walther is currently a senior vice president and editorial director for Vintage Books, Anchor Books, and Everyman’s Library at Alfred A. Knopf.

She has published novelists including Ha Jin, winner of the National Book Award and two PEN Faulkner Awards; Ali Smith, three-time finalist for the Man Booker Award; and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights Sam Shepard and David Mamet, as well as John Guare and Anna Deavere Smith, recipient of the 2012 National Humanities Medal presented by former President Barack Obama.

She has also published literary critics such as Alfred Kazin, Irving Howe, and Elaine Showalter; biographers including Hermione Lee and Morton Cohen; and PEN Award-winning translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, whose translation of War and Peace became a national bestseller.

Walther was the founding editor of the Bantam Classics imprint, where she published more than 100 titles before moving on to Penguin/New American Library. There, as executive editor, she oversaw the Signet Classics, Meridian Books, and Plume trade paperback imprints, as well as the acquisition of hardcover titles. In 1988 she went to Alfred A. Knopf.

As editorial director of Vintage/Anchor Walther has worked with celebrated authors including Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Oliver Sacks, Chinua Achebe, Colson Whitehead, Patti Smith, Maxine Hong Kingston, Henry Louis Gates, and many others. At Everyman’s Library she has overseen the U.S. publication of 650 hardcover classics including the popular Pocket Poets series.

Submitted on: MAY 3, 2017

Category: Commencements | General GC News