Olympian Michelle Kwan and Northampton’s Clare Higgins among 5 honorary degree recipients at Smith commencement

  • Joseph McVeigh, Head Marshal and professor of German Studies, left, presents former Northampton mayor and community leader Clare Higgins with an honorary degree May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton.

  • Joseph McVeigh, Head Marshal and professor of German Studies, left, presents education leader and advocate Henrietta Mann with an honorary degree May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton.

  • Joseph McVeigh, Head Marshal and professor of German Studies, left, presents scientist Erin O'Shea with an honorary degree May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton.

  • Olympic medalist figure skater and diplomatic envoy Michelle Kwan is presented with an honorary degree May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton.

  • Global media leader, philanthropist, producer and actress Oprah Winfrey is presented with an honorary degree May 21, 2017 during the 139th commencement ceremony at Smith College Quadrangle in Northampton.

@JackSuntrup
Published: 5/21/2017 9:43:52 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Former Northampton mayor and city councilor Clare Higgins was one of five women to receive honorary degrees Sunday at the 139th Smith College Commencement.

U.S. champion figure skater and Olympian Michelle Kwan, media leader Oprah Winfrey, founding president of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal College Henrietta Mann, and 1988 Smith grad and president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Erin O’Shea were also recipients of honorary doctorates.

In awarding Higgins an honorary law degree, Smith College President Kathleen McCartney said Higgins was a “force to be reckoned with” during her three terms as Northampton city councilor. 

“You developed a leadership style that placed the needs and well-being of individuals at the forefront of decision-making,” McCartney said. As mayor from 2000 to 2011, “you enhanced the city’s affordable housing and invested in important infrastructure projects.”

Now, Higgins is the executive director of Community Action, an agency that serves 27,000 low-income families in the area.

“You continue to fight poverty and uphold the health and dignity of those in need, especially the youngest and most vulnerable citizens,” McCartney said.

Kwan, who was awarded an honorary law degree, earned a master’s degree in international relations from Tuft’s University after leaving figure skating and has been involved in diplomatic efforts on behalf of the United States. She is also on the Special Olympics board of directors.

“You have used your international standing to inspire young people to assume leadership roles and engage in social and educational issues,” McCartney said. 

Henrietta Mann was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. 

“Your influence in fostering a revival of tribal cultures has extended far beyond academia,” McCartney said. “You have advocated for American Indian rights, helped secure the enactment of the American Indian religious freedom amendment and deepened this country’s appreciation and understanding of Native American history and traditions.”

Erin O’Shea, president of the Howard Hughs Medical Institute in Maryland, received an honorary Doctorate of Science.

McCartney praised her efforts to bring more minorities into the field and her research of cellular behavior.

The research “has brought insight that is yielding a better comprehension of cancer and other diseases,” McCartney said.

Last, McCartney awarded Oprah Winfrey an honorary doctor of fine arts. 

“You have built an empire of human connection that reaches across society’s divides,” she said of Winfrey. “You have shown the power of media to create community.

McCartney also called Winfrey, who later gave the commencement address, one of the great philanthropists of this century, donating “millions of dollars to education and humanitarian efforts.”

Jack Suntrup can be reached at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.

 

 

 

 




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