Franklin and Friends

When the seated bronze by George Lundeen of Benjamin Franklin took its place on Locust Walk in 1987--a gift of the Class of 1962 on its 25th anniversary--it quickly became a favorite place for photographs, including the annual group portrait of Penn's honorary degree recipients and their hosts. This year only five degrees were announced (Almanac April 6), and the sixth was a well-kept secret until the last minute, when Trustees Chairman Roy Vagelos found he was not only a host, but an honoree. The citation read on Franklin Field said:

P. Roy Vagelos (C'50)

A man of vision, commitment, and focus, you have translated your remarkable talents as a researcher and business leader into the effective leadership of an academic institution. With dynamic style, energy, and enthusiasm, you have joined with Penn's President Judith Rodin to lead the University's Agenda for Excellence, identifying opportunities and core capabilities at Penn and building on them for the betterment of education and research. When the next history of the University of Pennsylvania is written, there will undoubtedly be a chapter titled "The Vagelos Years," so influential you have been as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees.

You took on the position of Chairman of the Trustees in 1994 during the same week you retired from Merck & Co., Inc. after 19 years, nine as chairman and chief executive officer. Merck thrived under your direction, developing life-saving drugs such as Mevacor and Vasotec, and you saw to it that Ivomec, an anti-parasitic medication for animals which also prevented river blindness in humans, was donated in perpetuity to treat and prevent the disease, saving more than 21 million people from blindness.

As the Chairman of the Trustees at Penn, you have continued to devote yourself to improving science research and interdisciplinary study. Perhaps your most notable contribution is the Roy and Diana Vagelos Laboratories of the Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, where cutting edge science research in bioengineering, chemistry, chemical engineering, and medicine takes place.

You also have raised funds tirelessly for undergraduate financial aid and created the Vagelos Scholars Program in Molecular Life Sciences, a scholarship for exceptional students interested in pursuing careers in the biological sciences.

You are highly regarded around the world, with honors including membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. You received the Chemistry in Service to Society Award from the National Academy of Sciences and the Bower Award in Business Leadership from the Franklin Institute.

The Trustees recognize the significance of your many contributions to the fields of business, research, and education and are grateful for your devotion to improving the future of academia, especially here at Penn. In this spirit, they are honored and thrilled to confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

 Provost Robert Barchi, left, makes his first Commencement appearance as Provost. Left to right beside him are the honorary degree recipients for 1999: Dr. Earl R. Stadtman, Billie Jean King, Secretary Robert Rubin, Dr. Gerda Lerner, Dr. Isabella Karle, and Dr. P. Roy Vagelos. President Judith Rodin is alongside Ben on the Bench.

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 33, May 18/25, 1999