The Queen of Soul, a legendary basketball coach and a community college president were among those honored at Princeton University’s 265th annual Commencement today.
Six honorary degrees were awarded at the ceremony in front of Nassau Hall, along with 1,200 undergraduate degrees and 832 graduate degrees.
Motown singer Aretha Franklin, basketball coach Pete Carril, Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron, Institute for Advanced Study Professor Joan Wallach Scott, Princeton University Professor of Physics Emeritus Joseph Taylor Jr., and University of Austin-Texas math professor Karen Uhlenbeck all received honorary doctoral degrees.
Franklin, the first woman honored by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, was recognized for pioneering an “impeccably bold and fearless, affective and affecting style of performance that calls upon listeners to journey to the depths of her soul and, in so doing, discover their own.”
“With her singular amazing grace, she continues to traverse musical bridges over troubled water,” said University Orator and Trustee Stephen Oxman. “And by reminding us to think, do right, and call on her, the queen of soul will forever command the world’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
Carill, a basketball Hall of Famer, led the Princeton University men’s basketball team for 29 seasons and took Princeton to 11 NCAA tournaments before joining the Sacramento Kings as an assistant coach. He is known for popularizing a style of play known as the Princeton offense.
“More often than not, his players were shorter, slower and less athletically gifted than their opponents, but he turned their limitations into strengths, teaching them that the greatest attributes were intelligence, discipline, selflessness and commitment,” Oxman said. “His defense was tenacious and his offense was legendary, where movement was paramount, the pass was as important as the shot, and the back door was often the portal to victory. David once again beat Goliath when he coached Princeton to one of the greatest upsets in NCAA history, but his greatest legacy was his teaching.”
Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman, who presided over the ceremony, stressed the value of a liberal arts education in her annual speech, calling on graduates to value their degrees at a time when many leaders are advocating for increased study of science and math at the expense of well-rounded academic training.
“Economic hard times always elicit calls for more goal-oriented education,” Tilghman said. “It is ironic that these calls for more outcome-oriented education in the U.S. come precisely at the moment when other nations are racing in the opposite direction.”
Tilghman said other countries have taken note of the immense creativity of the American economy over the past 50 years, and have concluded that education in the liberal arts promotes citizens innovation, independent thinking, and the ability to work across disciplinary boundaries.
“From the United Kingdom to Sweden, Australia, India, China and Bangladesh, educators are experimenting with more holistic educational curricula for their students, believing that education that specializes too early and too narrowly produces well-trained technocrats but few innovators,” she said. “This country and the dozens of others represented on this lawn today need thoughtful, open-minded and well-informed citizens to chart their course and influence their future. No, we are not about to administer the last rites for a liberal education.”
She qualified her remarks, saying that a liberal arts education is not the only valuable form of education.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the great strengths of the U.S. higher education system is its immense diversity, with post-secondary educational institutions of many kinds preparing for meaningful careers everyone from performing artists to nurses to video game designers, teenagers and grandparents, in small classrooms and large online communities. This rich tapestry of opportunity is essential for a well-functioning society,” she said. “What I am saying is that to be successful in the 21st century, just as in the 18th century, a society requires citizens who are steeped in history, literature, languages, culture, and scientific and technological ideas from ancient times to the present day. They need to be curious about the world, broadly well-informed, independent of mind, and able to understand and sympathize with what Woodrow Wilson referred to as `the other’.”
She urged students to see their liberal education as a privilege that brings with it a responsibility.
“Use your education wisely, as much for the benefit of others in your community and nation and the world as for your own private good,” she said, telling students to aim high and be bold.