Smith awards honorary degrees to five notable leaders

Photos Courtesy Of inspiritedliving.com, masslive.com, lafsc.org, montana.edu and sciencemag.org [Left to right] | This year Smith College will award honorary degrees to Clare Higgins, Michelle Kwan, Henrietta Mann, Oprah Winfrey and Erin O’Shea ’88.

Cassie Follman ‘20
Contributing Writer

Each year, Smith awards honorary degrees to individuals who emulate the college’s values and are seen as inspirations in their fields. To decide who receives these annual degrees, the President of the college takes nominations for recipients from the Smith community. The official website reads, “The college will consider women who are exemplars of excellence in a wide range of fields, both academic and non-academic. The college will also consider women and men who have had special impact on Smith College, on the education of women, or on women’s lives.” A Smith leadership committee meets to discuss and decide nominations to present to the Board of Trustees, and after that,  the President selects the individuals who will  receive the honorary degrees.

As the Commencement Speaker, Oprah Winfrey will receive an honorary degree from Smith for her work during her impressive career. As an actress and producer, she has lent her talents to many projects over the course of her career, receiving  an Academy Award nomination for “The Color Purple” as well as producing and acting in the Academy Award-winning film “Selma.”. Also known for her dedication as a philanthropist, Oprah’s work with the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, based in South Africa, has helped many young women obtain higher education.

Other honorary degree recipients include Clare Higgins, Michelle Kwan, Henrietta Mann and Erin O’Shea. A past Northampton mayor and now the executive director at Community Action, Clare Higgins has been dedicated to public service and serving the community her entire career. Her contributions to Community Action have helped those living in poverty throughout Western Massachusetts. In addition to serving as mayor for six terms, she was also a member on the Northampton City Council for three terms, and worked to aid the community amongst state aid cuts.

Michelle Kwan is the most decorated U.S. figure skater in history, and has created a notable career post-figure skating as well. During her ten-year career in skating, she was awarded two Olympic Gold Medals, five World Championships and nine U.S. National Championships, eight of which were consecutive. She has gone on to serve on the board of directors for Special Olympics International amongst other positions.

Throughout her life, Henrietta Mann has shown a deep dedication to education and has been especially active in the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. She has served on the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal governments and is the founding president of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal College. Other areas of her career include serving on the board of trustees for the National Museum of the American Indian and becoming one of the first two Native American educators to earn an elected position in the National Academy of Education.

A Smith graduate of ’88, Erin O’Shea has demonstrated her remarkable talents in STEM as the president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and winner of numerous awards in her field, amongst other accomplishments. With a focus in gene regulation, signal transduction and systems biology, she has worked at Harvard and UC San Francisco. She has earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from MIT and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Smith.

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