Charles Vest to Deliver Commencement Address

Former MIT president and six others will receive honorary degrees at May 22 ceremony
March 16, 2011

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Charles M. Vest, the president of the National Academy of Engineering and president emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will deliver the main address at Tufts’ 155th commencement on May 22.

Vest has made many contributions to science, engineering and education over his 40-year career and has sought to strengthen national policy in these areas. Prior to becoming NAE president in 2007, Vest served as president of MIT for 14 years before stepping down in 2004.

At MIT, his administrative team included an impressive number of men and women who would go on to lead other noted universities, including Lawrence S. Bacow at Tufts; Robert J. Birgeneau at the University of Toronto and the University of California at Berkeley; Robert A. Brown at Boston University; Alice P. Gast at Lehigh University and Mark S. Wrighton at Washington University.

“Chuck Vest has had a unique impact on higher education,” says President Lawrence S. Bacow.“Chuck Vest has had a unique impact on higher education,” Bacow said. “A superb advocate for innovation, he has argued persuasively for the economic and social importance of research universities to the future of the nation. He has pushed to expand access to college in this country and, through the OpenCourseWare movement, to university-generated knowledge around the world,” Bacow noted. “And for a generation of American educators, Chuck has been an example of how to stay focused on doing the right thing, even when it is not easy.”

Vest chaired the President’s Advisory Committee on the Redesign of the Space Station, and served as a member of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, the Massachusetts Governor’s Council on Economic Growth and Technology and the National Research Council Board on Engineering Education. He chaired the U.S. Department of Energy Task Force on the Future of Science Programs and was vice chair of the Council on Competitiveness and chair of the Association of American Universities.

In 2006 President George W. Bush awarded Vest the National Medal of Technology.

After earning an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at West Virginia University, he received an M.S.E. and a Ph.D. in the same field from the University of Michigan, where he began his academic career in 1968. He was named provost and vice president for academic affairs at Michigan in 1989, and moved to MIT the following year.

Vest has written two books on higher education: Pursuing the Endless Frontier: Essays on MIT and the Role of Research Universities (MIT Press, 2004) and The American Research University from World War II to World Wide Web (University of California Press, 2007).

At the Tufts commencement, which begins at 9 a.m. on the academic quad on the Medford/Somerville campus, Vest will receive an honorary doctor of science degree. Six other distinguished men and women will also receive honorary doctorates:

Geoffrey Canada is president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a nationally recognized nonprofit that has dramatically increased high school and college graduation rates among students in Harlem. The organization helps urban children escape the violence and poverty that Canada himself experienced growing up in the South Bronx. He will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

Thomas Frieden is director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and administrator of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. He spearheaded efforts to reduce tuberculosis infection rates in India by 80 percent, and his public health initiatives in New York City included a smoking ban in public workplaces and the elimination of trans fats in restaurant food. He will receive an honorary doctor of public service degree.

Jamaica Kincaid is an award-winning writer whose works of fiction and nonfiction frequently focus on the tensions between mothers and daughters and between mother and daughter colonies in England and her native Antigua. She is a professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College and will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

Pamela Omidyar, J89, is a social justice advocate and founder of Humanity United, which seeks to build lasting peace and advance human freedom, and HopeLab, which uses technology to improve the health of young people. She is a member of the advisory council to The Elders, an independent group of global leaders who support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. She will receive an honorary doctor of public service degree.

Pierre Omidyar, A88, is a trustee emeritus of Tufts, philanthropist, entrepreneur and founder and chairman of eBay. With his wife, Pamela, he donated $100 million to Tufts to create the Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund. He is also founding partner and chairman of Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm created with Pamela Omidyar that creates opportunities for people to improve their lives. He will receive an honorary doctor of public service degree.

Robert Solow, an Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT, received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1987 for his research into the critical role that technological advances play in economic growth. He was an advisor to President John F. Kennedy and received the National Medal of Science. He will receive an honorary doctor of science degree.

In addition, John Kerry, the senior senator from Massachusetts and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, will address Fletcher School graduates on May 21 during their annual Class Day ceremonies.

For more information on commencement, go to http://commencement.tufts.edu.