Assistant News Editor
At the 2014 commencement, Smith College will present honorary degrees to Ela Bhatt, Eric Carle, Swanee Hunt, Evelyn Fox Keller and Ruth J. Simmons.
Each year the honorary degree recipients are chosen from nominations made by members of the Smith community. The college defines eligibility for an honorary degree as “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.”
The first of the honorary degree recipients is Ela Bhatt, an international activist from India. She founded the Self-employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA) in 1972 in order to help women workers organize for better pay and working conditions in India’s textile industry. Today, SEWA has a membership of over a million women and continues to work as a trade union for poor, self- employed women workers in India. In 2007, Nelson Mandela inducted Bhatt into The Elders, a group of public figures who describe their own mission as to “work together for peace and human rights.”
Eric Carle, world-renowned children’s book author, illustrator and designer, will also receive an honorary degree. Carle began his career as a graphic artist for The New York Times before going on to illustrate over 70 children’s books, most of which he also wrote. Some of his most well-known works include The Grouchy Ladybug, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been translated into more than 58 languages and has over 38 million copies. In 2002, Eric Carle founded The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art on Hampshire College’s campus in Amherst, Massachusetts.
The next honorary degree recipient is Swanee Hunt, who served as the United States Ambassador to Austria from 1993 to 1997. Hunt is also the founding director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is a specialist and advocate for women’s political leadership, especially in Eastern Europe. She co-founded the Hunt Alternatives Fund with her sister in 1981 and through the organization has donated over $100 million toward youth arts organizations, various social movements, and efforts to combat human trafficking.
Evelyn Fox Keller will also receive an honorary degree from Smith. Keller is a physicist and scientific historian. Her early work was in the intersection of biology and physics, but she later shifted to focusing on the history of modern science and gender. As a feminist, Keller has brought attention to the experiences of women scientists. In 1992, she was awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant. She was the 2011-2012 William Allen Neilson Professor at Smith and currently works as the Professor Emerita of History and Philosophy of Science at MIT.
The final honorary degree recipient is Ruth J. Simmons, who will also deliver the 136th commencement address. Simmons was the 9th president of Smith College. During her time at Smith, Simmons worked to make higher education accessible to students from all backgrounds, instituting a need-blind admissions policy. She also served as the 18th president of Brown University and was the first woman to act as Brown’s president, as well as the first African American president of any Ivy League university. In 2001, the year she assumed her position at Brown, Time named her America’s best college president.
Each honorary degree recipient has made considerable contributions to the Smith community and the wider world. The honorary degrees will be presented at the Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 18, at 10 a.m. in the Quadrangle.