Encaenia Honorands 2017
Encaenia Honorands 2017, from left to right: Joan Steitz, Eugene Braunwald, Frank Gehry, Robert Darnton, Judith Weir, Shirley Williams and Bryan Stevenson
Credit: John Cairns

Encaenia and Honorary degrees 2017

Seven honorary degrees were conferred by the Chancellor of the University, Lord Patten of Barnes, at Encaenia on 21 June 2017.

The Honorands were:

Professor Eugene Braunwald


Professor Eugene Braunwald was born in Vienna. He trained as a doctor at New York University and completed his medical residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. He went on to serve as Chief of Cardiology and as Clinical Director at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and was the founding Chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. From 1972 to 1996 he was Chairman of Harvard’s Department of Medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is now Distinguished Hersey Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. In 1984, Professor Braunwald founded the Thrombolysis In Myocardial Infarction (TIMI) study group, which he chaired until 2010. The group has carried out numerous clinical trials in patients who suffer from heart disease or are at risk of developing it. The group’s findings have demonstrated many ways to change clinical practice and improve patients’ health – for instance, in 2004, the group demonstrated that more intensive reduction of cholesterol has benefits for high-risk coronary artery patients, which has changed national and international practice guidelines. Professor Braunwald has been an editor of Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine for twelve editions, and was the founding editor of Heart Disease, now in its tenth edition - each the most influential textbook in its field. Professor Braunwald’s worldwide influence on the way in which cardiology is practiced has led to substantial improvements in patient care and reductions in sickness and death. He has received numerous awards including the Distinguished Scientist and Lifetime Achievement Awards of the American College of Cardiology, the Research Achievement and Herrick Awards of the American Heart Association, and the Gold Medal of the European Society of Cardiology.  The American College of Cardiology and the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology have each established an annual lecture in his name. Professor Braunwald was the first cardiologist elected to the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

Professor Robert Darnton

Historian and academic librarian

Professor Robert Darnton was born in New York City and studied for his first degree at Harvard University, graduating in 1960. He came to St John’s College, Oxford, to study history as a Rhodes Scholar. He completed a BPhil in 1962 and a DPhil in 1964. He worked as a reporter for The New York Times before becoming a junior fellow at Harvard.  He then taught at Princeton from 1968 until 2007. From 2007 to 2016 he was Carl H Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library at Harvard, and he now has emeritus status at both Harvard and Princeton. His research in cultural history concentrates on the literary world of Enlightenment France. Using the archives of the Société typographique de Neuchâtel, an 18th-century Swiss publishing house, he has brought to light a vast illegal literature of philosophy, atheism, and pornography that was smuggled into France in the decade before the Revolution. Professor Darnton has developed an influential anthropological approach to history, has advanced novel interpretations of the French Revolution, and has helped to create the field known as “the history of the book”. He also has a longstanding interest in electronic books, internet publishing, and other new media. He has written and edited many books, of which the latest are Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris (2010), and Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature (2014). He has served as a trustee of the New York Public Library and of the USA branch of Oxford University Press, and as president of the American Historical Association and of the International Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies. Among his honours are a MacArthur Prize Fellowship, a National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Humanities Medal conferred by President Obama in February 2012, and the Del Duca World Prize in the Humanities awarded by the Institut de France in 2013. He is a Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur and Honorary Fellow of St John’s College.

Frank Gehry


Frank Gehry was born in Toronto. He received a degree in Architecture from the University of Southern California in 1954, served in the US army in 1955, then studied City Planning at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. He began his career as an architect at Victor Gruen Associates, and in 1957 he began work on his first private residence. In 1962 he established his own practice in Los Angeles. Throughout the 1970s and 80s he designed commercial and residential projects in Southern California, including the renovation of his own house in Santa Monica. After winning the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1989 he began to receive national and international commissions, including the Cinémathèque Française in Paris. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which opened in 1997, remains one of his best-known buildings, along with the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. His first skyscraper, 8 Spruce Street in New York City, opened in 2011. At the time of opening, it was the tallest residential tower in the western hemisphere. In 2014, two museums designed by Gehry opened – the Biomuseo in Panama City, and the Fondation Luis Vuitton in Paris. Gehry continues to design both commercial, cultural, academic and residential buildings. Several of his designs are currently under construction, including LUMA/Parc des Ateliers in Arles, France; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Battersea Power Station development in London. In 2011, Gehry joined the University of Southern California as the Judge Widney Professor of Architecture. Gehry is known for his use of unusual, “utilitarian” building materials, including corrugated steel and unpainted wood. In addition to buildings, he has designed sculptures, jewellery and furniture. As well as the Pritzker Prize, his many other international awards include the RIBA Gold Medal, the Americans for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as more than a dozen honorary degrees.

Professor Joan Steitz

Molecular biochemist

Professor Joan Argetsinger Steitz was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and studied for her undergraduate degree in chemistry at Antioch College. She then moved to Harvard University, where she was the first female graduate student to join the laboratory of the Nobel Laureate James Watson, to read for a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology.  Throughout her career, Professor Steitz has studied ribonucleic acid – RNA – a molecule which plays an essential role in expressing genes. In cellular organisms, including plants and animals, RNA in various forms is central to copying genetic information from the DNA so that it can be decoded and assembled into proteins. It can also be used to transfer genetic information, and many viruses encode their entire genome using RNA rather than DNA. Professor Steitz spent several years in her early career at Cambridge University’s MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. In 1970, she was appointed Assistant Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University, becoming full professor in 1978. At Yale, she established a laboratory dedicated to the study of RNA structure and function. In 1979, Steitz and her colleagues described a group of cellular particles called small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs), a breakthrough in understanding how RNA is spliced. Her laboratory has gone on to define the structures and functions of other ribonucleoproteins, shedding new light on how RNA works in cellular organisms and viruses. Professor Steitz is now Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale, and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, and the Institute of Medicine. Her many honours include the National Medal of Science (1986), the Gairdner Foundation International Award (2006), La Grande Médaille 2013 de l'Académie des Sciences, Institut de France, and the Jonathan Kraft Prize for Excellence in Cancer Research (2016).

Dr Bryan Stevenson

Lawyer and social justice activist

Dr Bryan A Stevenson grew up in Milton, Delaware. He received a Master’s degree in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School, both in 1985. After graduating, he continued to work at the Southern Center for Human Rights, campaigning for the civil and human rights of people in the US criminal justice system. Throughout his career he has challenged unfair prosecution and sentencing of the poor, people of colour and children. In 1989, he founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), of which he is now the executive director. The EJI is a non-profit law organisation which campaigns against racial and economic bias in the criminal justice system and aims to protect the human rights of the most vulnerable people. EJI litigates on behalf of juvenile offenders, people wrongly convicted or charged, poor people denied effective representation and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct. Under Dr Stevenson’s leadership, the EJI has won major legal challenges including reversals, relief or release of more than 115 prisoners on death row. Dr Stevenson has argued several cases in the US Supreme Court and recently won a ruling that that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children aged 17 or younger are unconstitutional. Dr Stevenson and the EJI also plan to build the first national memorial to victims of lynching in America. The Memorial to Peace and Justice is expected to open in 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr Stevenson is a Professor of Law at New York University. He has been awarded many honours, including the Olof Palme Prize for International Human Rights (2000) and the Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize (2009), and has received honorary degrees from more than 25 universities. His book, Just Mercy (2014), was a New York Times Bestseller and received many awards, including the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, and the NAACP Image Award.

Judith Weir


Judith Weir, CBE, was born in Cambridge. She studied at King’s College, Cambridge, with Robin Holloway and Gunther Schuller, and after graduating in 1976 worked as a community composer with the Southern Arts Association. She later taught at the University of Glasgow and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. In 1995 she became Associate Composer with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and Artistic Director of Spitalfields Festival. She was the University of Oxford’s Hambro Visiting Professor of Opera Studies in 1999, Harvard University’s Fromm Foundation Visiting Professor of Music in 2004, and Visiting Distinguished Research Professor in Cardiff University from 2006-2009. In 2005 she was appointed CBE for services to music, and in 2007 was awarded the Queen’s Medal for Music. In 2008, the BBC’s annual composer weekend at the Barbican Centre focused on Weir and her work, and concluded with a performance of her work CONCRETE, a choral motet inspired by the Barbican itself. In 2014 Weir was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music, and in 2015 she became Associate Composer to the BBC Singers. She has become particularly well-known for her operas - written for Kent Opera, Scottish Opera, ENO and Bregenz, among others – including The Black Spider, The Consolations of Scholarship, A Night at the Chinese Opera, The Vanishing Bridegroom, Blond Eckbert and Armida, an opera for television, which was broadcast on Channel Four in 2005. She has also written orchestral music for the BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony and Minnesota Orchestras. In 2015, her arrangement of the National Anthem was performed at the reburial of King Richard III at Leicester Cathedral. In addition to the Queen’s Medal she has received many awards, including the Elise L Stoeger Prize, the South Bank Show Music Award, the ISM’s Distinguished Musician Award and the Ivor Novello Award for Classical Music.

Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby


Shirley Williams, Baroness Williams of Crosby, PC, studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Somerville College and was the first woman to chair the Oxford University Labour Club. On graduating, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Columbia University. After working as a journalist at the Daily Mirror and Financial Times, she served as a Labour MP from 1964 to 1979, acting as Shadow Home Secretary (1971-73) and Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection (1974-6). From 1976 to 1979 she was both Paymaster General and Secretary of State for Education. In 1981 she was one of the Gang of Four who resigned from the Labour Party to found the Social Democratic Party (SDP), one of the forebears of the modern Liberal Democrat Party. She was the SDP’s first MP, and served as its chair from 1983 to 1987. In 1993 she was made a Life Peer, serving as an active member of the House of Lords until 2016. From 2001 to 2004 she was Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords and from 2007 to 2010 she was Adviser on Nuclear Proliferation to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. She has been a member of the Top Level Group of UK Parliamentarians for Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament and Non-proliferation since its establishment in 2009. She is Professor Emerita at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, having taught there from 1998 to 2001. At Harvard she was involved in ‘Project Liberty’, an initiative designed to assist emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. She is also an also Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge. She is the author of many publications, initially focusing on employment policy and youth unemployment in books such as Politics is for People (1981) and A Job to Live (1985), before taking up broader political and personal topics in works such as Ambition and Beyond: Career Paths of American Politicians (1993, with Edward L Lascher) and God and Caesar: Personal Reflections on Politics and Religion (2003).