Rutgers to Confer Six Honorary Degrees at 244th Commencement; Noted Feminist Eleanor Smeal to Receive Doctor of Humane Letters and Deliver Keynote Address

Rutgers to Confer Six Honorary Degrees at 244th Commencement; Noted Feminist Eleanor Smeal to Receive Doctor of Humane Letters and Deliver Keynote Address

Gov. Chris Christie, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Board of Governors Chair The Rev. M. William Howard, author Judy Blume and renowned scientist Dr. Carl Djerassi also to be honored at May ceremonies

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, will award Gov. Chris Christie an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during its 244th Commencement Sunday, May 16 in New Brunswick. Rutgers traditionally recognizes new governors during the universitywide ceremonies.

Eleanor Smeal

Eleanor Smeal will deliver the keynote for the 244th Rutgers Commencement on May 16.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman elected president of Liberia and Africa’s first female elected head of state, also will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Commencement speaker Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), and The Rev. M. William Howard Jr., chair of Rutgers’ Board of Governors, will be awarded honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees. Author Judy Blume, one of the foremost writers of fiction for young people, will be presented an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. Scientist-educator Dr. Carl Djerassi, emeritus professor of chemistry at Stanford University, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree May 17 at the joint Rutgers-Newark College of Arts and Sciences and University College convocation, where he will deliver the keynote address.

Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick will confer approximately 12,500 academic degrees – a record – during the 1 p.m. festivities on Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue Campus. Representatives from all 27-degree-granting units and their guests, faculty and staff attend this ceremony.

Smeal, a former president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), is a renowned feminist activist and political analyst who has helped define the direction and contours of the modern women’s movement. She was the first to identify the “gender gap” in voting and popularized its use in analyzing the influence of women voters. Smeal is perhaps best known for her advocacy of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and 1980s, and was instrumental in creating one of the most significant grass-roots lobbying efforts in American history.

Smeal led the first national abortion rights march, which brought more than 100,000 activists to Washington, D.C., and was a key organizer of the 2004 March for Women’s Lives that drew 1.1 million to the nation’s capital. With FMF, the publisher of Ms. Magazine, she has spearheaded the effort to connect young women with feminism.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Duke University, Smeal earned a master’s degree in political science and public administration from the University of Florida. She often has participated in programs presented by the Center for American Women and Politics of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers.

Dr. Carl Djerassi

Dr. Carl Djerassi

Djerassi is a renowned scientist, educator, author, playwright and philanthropist who has achieved excellence in both science and the arts. He is perhaps best known as the first to synthesize the oral contraceptive norethindrone – “The Pill” – for which he received the National Medal of Science in 1973. Djerassi also has conducted path-breaking work in the areas of steroid anti-inflammatory agents and antihistamines. He is credited with pioneering research in synthetic organic chemistry and medicinal chemistry. He has published more than 1,200 academic articles and seven books.

For the past 20 years, Djerassi has turned to fiction writing, mostly in the genre of “science-in-fiction” novels and “science-in-theater” plays that examine the human side of scientists and their personal conflicts in the quest for scientific knowledge, personal recognition and financial reward. His works on the culture and behavior of scientists include five highly successful novels and eight plays performed in theatres from London to New York to Tokyo.

During the past 30 years, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program has provided residencies and studio space for nearly 2,000 artists in the visual arts, literature, choreography and music.

Djerassi received his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin 1945. He worked for CIBA Pharmaceutical Co. in New Jersey and Syntex in Mexico City before becoming a professor at Wayne State University and Stanford, from which he retired in 2002. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Christie was born in Newark and raised in Livingston. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware in


Gov. Chris Christie

1984 and a law degree from the Seton Hall School of Law in 1987. Following admission to the bars of the state of New Jersey and the United States District Court, District of New Jersey, he joined a Cranford law firm. He was elected a Morris County freeholder in 1995, serving as director of the Board of Freeholders for one year in 1997.

Christie was appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey in 2002, a position he held six years. As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, he earned praise from leaders in both major political parties and drew national attention for his efforts in battling political corruption, corporate crime, human trafficking, gangs, terrorism and polluters. With his 2009 election, Christie became New Jersey’s 55th governor.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia

Johnson Sirleaf is internationally known as Africa’s “Iron Lady” and a leading promoter of peace, justice and democratic rule. Born and raised in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, she came to the United States in 1961. She studied economics and public policy, and earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

In her efforts to bring peace and justice to her country, Johnson Sirleaf suffered many personal hardships and twice went into exile. In 1997, she returned to Liberia and finished second in a field of 13 presidential candidates. In her second try for the presidency, Johnson Sirleaf was elected in November 2005. Two years later, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S., for her personal courage and commitment to expand freedom and improve the lives of Liberians and all Africans.

Pastor of Newark’s Bethany Baptist Church and internationally known as a religious and human rights leader, Howard will

Rev. M. William Howard Jr.

Rev. M. William Howard Jr.

soon complete three years of service as chair of Rutgers’ Board of Governors. A graduate of Morehouse College and the Princeton Theological Seminary, he is a former president of the National Council of Churches and served eight years as president of the New York Theological Seminary.

Appointed to the Board of Governors in 2004 and chair since 2007, Howard has worked to improve transparency and accountability in all university operations. Rutgers launched significant redevelopment projects under his leadership, including campus improvements, classroom renovations, new academic and research facilities, and a seven-acre solar energy facility on the Livingston Campus. 

Blume, a native of Elizabeth, is a Distinguished Alumna of New York University. She began to write in the 1960s and in 1969 sold her first book, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo. Her novel, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, was chosen as one of 1970’s best books for children by The New York Times.

Blume’s writings have been hailed for their sensitivity, humor and insight in capturing the joys, fears, uncertainty and anguish of young people dealing with such subjects as body image, bullying, divorce, friendship, racism, religion and sexuality. Over the years, she has expanded her audience to include adults, and all her adult novels have been Times’ best-sellers.

Blume has published 28 books which have been translated into 31 languages with more than 80 million copies sold. She has received numerous honors, including the Library of Congress “Living Legends” award and the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. The author is an advisory board member of Answer, a program of the Rutgers Center for Applied Psychology.


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