Honoring Distinguished Achievements: A Glimpse At The 2016 Honorary Degree ecipients

Sunnie Yi Ning ’18
Assistant News Editor

This Commencement weekend, Smith College will honor its graduating seniors, as well as guests who have provided distinguished services and honorable achievements. Every year, Smith awards honorary degrees to distinguished guests at the Commencement ceremony. This year, the six honorary degree recipients are Alison Bechdel, Roslyn Brock, Ruchira Gupta, Megan Smith, Abby Wambach and Stephanie D. Wilson.

The first honorary degree recipient – and the 2016 Commencement speaker – is Megan Smith, chief technology officer of the United States in the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House. She is an award-winning entrepreneur and engineer and has contributed to a variety of innovative engineering projects, such as designing early smartphone technologies at General Magic, bicycle locks, space station construction program and solar cook stoves. Previously a vice president of Google[X] at Google, she was the first female to be named Chief Technology Officer.

She is an active proponent of STEM education and innovation, especially for women. In 2012, she started Google’s “Women Techmakers” diversity initiative. She also previously served as CEO of PlanetOut, a leading LGBT online community in the early days of the internet. Over the years, she has been seen as an inspiration for young people. In her commencement speech at MIT in 2015, she told her audience, “My hope for you is that you bring your technical skills to the things you love.”

Alison Bechdel, a distinguished American cartoonist, is also an honorary degree recipient. Known for the long-running comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” and graphic memoir “Fun Home,” Bechdel is a 2014 recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award. Bechdel’s sexuality and gender non-conformity are a part of the core message of her work.

“The secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings,” said Bechdel to The Goblin in an interview in 2015.

Roslyn Brock, the chairman of the National Board of Directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is another honorary degree recipient this year. She is the youngest person and fourth woman to hold this position. Brock is a policy advocate for health care policy and reform, population health policy and reform, health equity and social justice legislative and regulatory efforts. Brock also created the annual NAACP Leadership 500 Summit.

Ruchira Gupta, an Indian sex trafficking abolitionist, journalist and activist will also be receiving an honorary degree this year. She has worked for over 25 years to battle sex trafficking. In 2002, she founded Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a grassroots organization in India working to end sex trafficking by assisting at-risk girls and women. In 2009, Gupta won the Clinton Global Citizen Award. Her work focused on lobbying policy makers to shift blame from victims to perpetrators.

Abby Wambach, another honorary degree recipient, is a retired soccer player, coach, two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup champion. She holds the worldwide record for most goals scored, for both men and women. In 2015, she was included on the Time 100 most influential people in the world because of her excellence in soccer. She has been recently hired to serve as an analyst and contributor for ESPN. She has also been outspoken about issues within U.S. soccer, such as gender pay inequalities.

Wambach’s recent DUI – to which she pleaded guilty – caused debate on campus as to whether she should come.

The last honorary degree recipient, Stephanie D. Wilson, is an engineer and NASA astronaut. She is the second African American woman to go into space, after Mae Jemison. Wilson has flown on three shuttle missions, totaling more than 42 days in space. In 2013, Wilson served at NASA’s Glenn Research Center as the Acting Chief of Program and Project Integration to oversee, plan and control functions for Glenn’s spaceflight projects.

All of the honorary degree recipients will be awarded their degrees at the Commencement ceremony this Sunday.

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