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COMMENCEMENT 2009: Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients
February 24, 2009, Volume 55, No. 23

The Office of the University Secretary has announced that at Penn’s 253rd Commencement on Monday, May 18, 2009, these six individuals will be presented with honorary degrees as noted below.

  • Yvon Chouinard, Founder, Patagonia, Inc., Co-founder, One Percent For The Planet: Doctor of Humane Letters
  • Dr. George Crumb, Pulitzer Prize winning Composer, Walter H. Annenberg Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, University of Pennsylvania: Doctor of Music
  • Jennifer Yvonne Mokgoro, GL’90, Judge, Constitutional Court of South Africa: Doctor of Laws
  • Dr. Eric E. Schmidt, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, Google, Inc.: Doctor of Science
  • Dr. Susan Solomon, Senior Scientist, Earth System Research Laboratory, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2002-2008: Doctor of Science
  • Dr. Muhammad Yunus, Founder and Managing Director, Grameen Bank With Grameen Bank, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize: Doctor of Laws

Commencement Speaker

Eric Schmidt


Dr. Schmidt is Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Google, Inc. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin recruited Dr. Schmidt from Novell, where he led that company’s strategic planning, management and technology development as chairman and CEO. Since coming to Google in 2001, Dr. Schmidt has focused on building the corporate infrastructure needed to maintain Google’s rapid growth as a company and on ensuring that quality remains high while product development cycle times are kept to a minimum. Along with Mr. Page and Mr. Brin, Dr. Schmidt shares responsibility for Google’s day-to-day operations. Dr. Schmidt’s Novell experience culminated a 20-year record of achievement as an Internet strategist, entrepreneur and developer of great technologies. His well-seasoned perspective perfectly complements Google’s needs as a young and rapidly growing search engine with a unique corporate culture.

Prior to his appointment at Novell, Dr. Schmidt was chief technology officer and corporate executive officer at Sun Microsystems, Inc., where he led the development of Java, Sun’s platform-independent programming technology, and defined Sun’s Internet software strategy. Before joining Sun in 1983, he was a member of the research staff at the Computer Science Lab at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and held positions at Bell Laboratories and Zilog. Dr. Schmidt has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Princeton University  and a master’s and PhD in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley. In 2006, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, which recognized his work on “the development of strategies for the world’s most successful Internet search engine company.” He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a Fellow in 2007. He is also chairman of the board of directors for the New America Foundation.


Honorary Degree Recipients

Yvon Chouinard


Yvon Chouinard is an environmentalist, rock climber and the founder and owner of the innovative outdoor clothing and gear company, Patagonia, Inc. By his example of linking environmentalism and sound business principles, he popularized the concept of the slow company, and sparked widespread interest in practicing sustainability and ecological responsibility.

Self trained as a blacksmith, Mr. Chouinard began in business by designing, manufacturing and distributing rock climbing equipment in the late 1950s. In 1964, he produced his first mail order catalog, a one page mimeographed sheet that warned customers not to expect fast delivery during climbing season. His business grew slowly until 1972 when he added rugby shirts to his catalog and his clothing business took off.
Mr. Chouinard’s values, not his profits, have always determined his company’s business model. Dedicated to providing an outstanding work environment, Patagonia offered on-site child care for employees as early as 1984. Decades ahead of the recycling boom, Mr. Chouinard strived to make Patagonia as eco-friendly as possible, producing only long-lasting items of high quality when trends were leaning toward less durable, often disposable products. As part of this goal, Patagonia instituted an Earth Tax in 1986, pledging one percent of sales to the preservation and restoration of the natural environment. In 2001, Mr. Chouinard co-founded One Percent For The Planet, which has grown into an alliance of over 1000 businesses worldwide that contribute at least one percent of their net annual sales to approved environmental organizations of their choosing.

His passion, business practices and success have influenced other companies around the world to prioritize sustainability. In the early 1990s, an environmental audit of Patagonia revealed that standard methods of cotton production were damaging the environment. In 1994, Mr. Chouinard committed the company to using only organically-grown cotton, leading to the creation of an organic cotton industry in California. Other efforts have included printing catalogs on recycled paper well before the practice was commonplace and making fleece jackets out of recycled plastic bottles.

A popular speaker at business schools across the country, Mr. Chouinard is the author of Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, a memoir and history of Patagonia and the emerging environmental movement in businesses. The organizations Sustainability Asset Management and Sustainability Performance Group gave Mr. Chouinard its Leader Award in 2008.

George Crumb


George Crumb’s reputation as a composer of hauntingly beautiful music over seven decades has made him one of today’s most frequently performed composers, with festivals devoted to his music held the world over. His works encompass music for orchestral, chamber and instrumental, vocal and choral performance. Dr. Crumb continues to add to his substantive body of work with new scores, including the American Songbook cycles, composed between 2001 and 2008.

His music often incorporates extended techniques of standard instruments and juxtaposes several contrasting musical styles, with references ranging from music of the Western tradition, to hymns and folk music, to non-Western music. Many of his works include programmatic, symbolic, mystical and theatrical elements, which are often reflected in his meticulously notated scores. In the 1960s and 1970s, he produced several highly influential and well-received vocal works based on the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca, including Ancient Voices of Children; Madrigals (Books 1-4); and Songs, Drones and Refrains of Death. Other major works from this period include Black Angels, Makrokosmos (Volumes 1 and 2), and Dr. Crumb’s largest score, Star-Child. His most recent works include Eine Kleine Mitternachtmusik, Otherworldly Resonances and a six-cycle series, American Songbook.

Dr. Crumb is the recipient of numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Echoes of Time and the River, the UNESCO International Rostrum of Composers Award, the Koussevitzky Recording Award, the 1998 Cannes Classical Award for Best CD of a Living Composer, and in 2001 a Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition for Star-Child. A Fulbright Scholar, he has also received grants from the Rockefeller, Guggenheim, Fromm and Ford Foundations for his exemplary work and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

He received his bachelor’s degree from the Mason College of Music in Charleston, West Virginia, his MA from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and his DMA from the University of Michigan. Dr. Crumb served on the faculty of Penn’s music department for over 30 years and is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor Emeritus in the Humanities.

Yvonne Mokgoro


Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, GL’90, a member of the South Africa Constitutional Court, has dedicated much of her career to human rights, particularly for women and children, and has had a profound influence on shaping South Africa’s democracy. The first black female judge in South Africa and on the court, and one of two women appointed by Nelson Mandela at the court’s inception in 1994, she worked in developing South Africa’s constitution and in striking down apartheid legislation. Justice Mokgoro has since been the author of many groundbreaking opinions, including the decision to abolish the death penalty in South Africa.  

While living under apartheid, Justice Mokgoro received her B.Juris, LLB and LLM degrees from the University of Bophuthatswana (now known as University of North West). She also received an LLM from the University of Pennsylvania in 1990. Prior to becoming a justice, through her academic work and research, she had a far-reaching influence in the fields of human rights, women’s rights and the impact of law on society. She began her career as a clerk in the Department of Justice of Bophuthatswana.  Justice Mokgoro has taught and lectured extensively at several universities in South Africa, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States, including Penn, and served as a specialist researcher in Human Rights Law at the Centre for Constitutional Analysis at the Human Science Research Council, Pretoria in South Africa.

The recipient of many honors and awards, Justice Mokgoro has received the Women’s Law and Public Law Fellowship from Georgetown University, the Human Rights Award by the Black Lawyers Association, the Oude Molen Reserve Order of Merit, the Legal Profession’s Woman Achiever Award by the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, the Tshwane Outstanding Service Award (TOSA), Kate Stoneman Award for Democracy from Albany Law School and the James Wilson Award from Penn Law, where she was the commencement speaker in 2007.

Justice Mokgoro currently serves on the boards of the Nelson Mandela-Rhodes Trust and the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria and is chair of the South African Law Reform Commission. From 1995 to 2005 she was the President of Africa Legal Aid, a non-governmental organization that provides legal aid and human rights education throughout Africa. She is also the Interim President of the South African Chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers.


Susan Solomon


Susan Solomon, a leader in the field of atmospheric science, is perhaps best known for having pioneered the theory of how and why the ozone hole occurs in Antarctica as well as obtaining some of the first chemical measurements to help establish chlorofluorocarbons as its cause. In recognition of her work, in 1999 Dr. Solomon was awarded the National Medal of Science, the highest scientific honor in the United States. The Solomon Glacier in Antarctica has also been named after her.

Dr. Solomon served as co-chair of the climate science group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 2002-2008. The IPCC, which provides comprehensive scientific assessments of climate change for the public and for policymakers, shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Albert Gore, Jr.

Her current research includes climate change, ozone depletion, and the links between them. She is a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Chemical Sciences Division and a Member of the Council of Fellows for the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado, Boulder. Time magazine named Solomon as one of the world’s most influential people of 2008.

Dr. Solomon is the recipient of many honors and awards, including the prestigious Blue Planet Prize of the Asahi Foundation in Japan, and the highest honors of the French Academy of Sciences (the Grande Medaille), the American Meteorological Society (the Rossby Medal) and the American Geophysical Union (the Bowie Medal). She is a “chevalier” (knight) in the French Legion of Honor, a member of the U. S. National Academy of Sciences and a Foreign Associate of the French Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, and the European Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Solomon is the author of over 150 scientific publications and the award-winning New York Times Notable book, The Coldest March: Scott’s Fatal Antarctic Expedition, recounting Captain Falcon Scott’s fatal 1912 Antarctic expedition to the South Pole.

She received a BS in chemistry from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a PhD in atmospheric chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.

Muhammad Yunus


Muhammad Yunus, founder and managing director of Grameen Bank and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been instrumental in lifting people worldwide out of poverty with the pioneering use of microcredit—supporting income generating activities by lending small amounts without collateral to the poor.

Dr. Yunus received his BA and MA in economics at Dhaka University in Bangladesh. A Fulbright scholar, he earned his PhD in economics from Vanderbilt University, and became an assistant professor of economics at Middle Tennessee State University in 1969. Inspired by an independent Bangladesh emerging in 1971, he returned to join the economics department of University of Chittagong. His active involvement in poverty reduction, spurred by the famine of 1974, led to the establishment of the Rural Economics Program.

Despite the lending practices of the time, which either preyed upon or simply ignored the poor, Dr. Yunus strongly believed that given the chance, the poor would repay borrowed money, put it to good use and even rise out of poverty. What started as Dr. Yunus’ own small business loans to Bangladeshi villagers grew into the full-fledged Grameen Bank (which means Village Bank). Grameen Bank now has 7.5 million borrowers, 97% of whom are women, and has lent over $7 billion with a near 100% repayment rate.

Dr. Yunus has founded several other companies in Bangladesh to abate poverty and aid development, including mobile phone services, energy, education and health care. He is also the founder of Grameen Trust, which extends the Grameen microcredit system all over the world.

Together with Grameen Bank, Dr. Yunus was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to create economic and social development, the first Bangladeshi and the third Bengali to be so honored. He has won a number of other awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award, World Food Prize and Sydney Peace Prize, and is the author of the bestselling books Banker to the Poor and Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism in 2008. In his home country, he has received the President’s Award, Central Bank Award and Independence Day Award, the highest national award. He is also a member of the Legion d’Honneur and one of the founding members of Global Elders, chaired by Nelson Mandela.

For Commencement information see www.upenn.edu/commencement or call (215) 573-GRAD

Related: 2009 Baccalaureate Speaker: Rev. Dr. Kirk Byron Jones


Almanac - February 24, 2009, Volume 55, No. 23