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Commencement

Saluting the 2022 Centennial Medalists

5.25.22

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences honorands (clockwise from top left) Neil Harris, John Kamm, Vicki Sato, and Robert Zimmer

Courtesy of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences


Graduate School of Arts and Sciences honorands (clockwise from top left) Neil Harris, John Kamm, Vicki Sato, and Robert Zimmer

Courtesy of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Centennial Medal, first awarded in 1989 on the occasion of the school’s hundredth anniversary, honors alumni who have made contributions to society that emerged from their graduate study at Harvard. It is the highest honor the Graduate School bestows, and awardees include some of Harvard’s most accomplished graduates. This year, the medals were awarded in person for the first time since 2019. The 2022 recipients are:

 

Neil Harris, Ph.D. ’65, History 

Neil Harris is Preston & Sterling Morton professor, Emeritus, of U.S. history, art history, and the college at the University of Chicago, where he taught for four decades. Chair of the history department there from 1985 to 1988, and again from 2000 to 2001, he expanded the study of cultural history, exploring American art, artists, and collecting; the interplay of technology, architecture, and design; world’s fairs; and the development of American museums, libraries, and learned societies, among other subjects.

Jones professor of American studies Lizabeth Cohen says that “Before Neil’s work, cultural history, to the extent it existed as a field, focused on elite culture. Today, cultural history… is about broader cultural experience. And Neil Harris is very much the builder of that field.”

John Kamm, A.M. ’75, Regional Studies—East Asia

John Kamm is a human rights activist, and the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Dui Hua Foundation, a humanitarian organization named for the Pinyin word in Chinese that means dialogue. A manager of business operations for Occidental Chemical Company in China and East Asia from 1981 to 1991, he was also vice president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong at the time of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. At that time, he persuaded the Chamber to condemn China’s response to the protests, and the following year, in 1990, helped secure the release of a Chinese political prisoner. Kamm has spent the ensuing decades as an advocate for detainees in China.

Chang professor of China studies William Kirby, the Spangler Family professor of business administration, says of Kamm that “As both a businessman and human rights activist, he understands how to engage, and, where necessary, confront a changing China. There is no doubt that John will continue to make a difference in the most important bilateral relationship of the 21st century.”

Vicki Sato ’69, A.M. ’72, Ph.D. ’72, Cellular and Developmental Biology 

Vicki Sato is a former Harvard professor of cell and developmental biology who went on to become president of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, which she led from 2000 to 2005, before returning to academia. She was vice president of research at Biogen Inc. and later held a similar position at Vertex before become president of the company. Back at Harvard in retirement, Sato served as a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and as a professor of the practice in the department of molecular and cellular biology. She was the founding faculty chair of Harvard’s Blavatnik Fellowship in Life Science Entrepreneurship and is currently a member of President Biden’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor Nitin Nohria, former dean of Harvard Business School calls Sato “a perfect translator between the scientific community, which she was deeply connected to, and the business community: the best bridge between those two worlds. She is a brilliant scientist, an extraordinary teacher, and a rare person.”

Robert Zimmer, A.M. ’71, Ph.D. ’75, Mathematics 

Robert Zimmer is a mathematician who from 2006 to 2021 was president of the University of Chicago, where he now serves as chancellor. Previously, he’d been a professor of mathematics and eventually chair of the department there before becoming the provost at Brown University in 2002. Upon returning to Chicago as president four years later, he undertook numerous steps to strengthen the institution, adding an engineering program, increasing global collaborations, and expanding financial aid to students. He is well-known for his efforts to protect freedom of expression in institutions of higher education. 

“Harvard is enormously proud to claim Bob Zimmer as an alum,” says president Lawrence S. Bacow. “His scholarship alone would have made him a worthy recipient of the Centennial Medal, but he went above and beyond—as anyone who knows him would expect—to make remarkable contributions as president of the University of Chicago. His leadership has shaped American higher education and changed the futures of countless individuals, an outstanding legacy that will echo through generations.”

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Law students at the Commencement exercises

Law graduates wield their gavels

Photograph by Jim Harrison

Conferring and Confirming

Urbanist William Julius Wilson and the ever-activist Gloria Steinem

Photograph by Jim Harrison

Honoris Causa

Graduates-to-be read the student newspaper, absent a University Gazette

Absent a printed Harvard Gazette, the Commencement crowd devoured The Crimson.
Photograph by Jim Harrison

Commencement Confetti