Princeton University Awards Six Honorary Degrees

 Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber (center) with honorary degree recipients (l-r) Bryan Stevenson, Robert Rivers, Eric Foner, Ben Bernanke, Froma Zeitlin and Shuli Hu. Photo: Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications.
Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber (center) with honorary degree recipients (l-r) Bryan Stevenson, Robert Rivers, Eric Foner, Ben Bernanke, Froma Zeitlin and Shuli Hu. Photo: Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications.

Princeton University awarded honorary degrees to six people Tuesday in recognition of their contributions to the humanities, economics, journalism, law, medicine, history and public service.

Ben Bernanke, a former Princeton professor who served two terms as chairman of the Federal Reserve, was honored at the school’s 269th commencement for his scholarship on monetary policy.

“When the house of cards crumbled in 2008, he and his colleagues first stabilized an epochal mess and then led the nation on a difficult path to recovery,” read the honorary degree citation. “His courage to act shored up America’s damaged financial foundations, and his steady hand at the helm inspired confidence when it was sorely needed. His place in history is assured, the nation is in his debt, and we are proud to have this opportunity to honor him.”

Eric Foner, the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, was honored for scholarship that has transformed American historical studies, challenging traditional narratives about the Civil War. He has written or edited more than 20 books on the Civil War, Reconstruction, and slavery in 19th-century America. His latest book, “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad,” was published earlier this year.

Shuli Hu, the founding editor of Caixin Media and a professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong, China, launched a career in investigative journalism at age 29 that has expanded the boundaries of free expression in China. She founded the finance and economics magazine Caijing in 1998, investigating news stories that often pressed the Chinese government on free expression. She covered topics including political corruption, fraud in financial markets, the extent of the SARS virus outbreak in 2003, and the death toll of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan.

Robert Joseph Rivers Jr., a retired vascular surgeon, was the first African American to be named Princeton University trustee in 1969. One of the first African American students admitted to Princeton in 1949, Rivers was born and raised in Princeton. His grandfather planted elms along Washington Road, his father worked at the Tiger Inn private student eating club as a janitor, his mother was a live-in maid for a professor’s family, and his brother was a coach for the football and baseball teams. In 1969, Rivers earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Princeton and attended Harvard Medical School. He served in the U.S. Navy, and later joined the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, where he was a professor of clinical surgery and associate dean for minority affairs.

“A distinguished surgeon and a mentor and role model for generations of students and alumni, he paved the way toward a University increasingly committed to diversity and inclusion, and he did it with dignity, grace, integrity and a lifelong devotion to this University’s highest values,” read the honorary degree citation.

Bryan Stevenson, a public-interest lawyer, works to help the poor and incarcerated. He has been representing capital defendants and death row prisoners since 1985, when he worked with the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. In 1989, he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based nonprofit organization that focuses on social justice and human rights in the context of criminal justice reform. He and his staff have successfully argued several cases before the United States Supreme Court, including winning a ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. Since 1998, Stevenson has been a professor of clinical law at New York University School of Law.

“He has fought to instill fairness and humanity in our nation’s criminal justice system, securing relief for children in adult prisons, inmates on death row, and those who have been blighted by wrongful conviction and disproportionate sentencing,” read the citation. “From the courtroom to the classroom, he has challenged his fellow citizens to confront larger questions of race and poverty and to demand just mercy for all.”

Froma Zeitlin, the Ewing Professor of Greek Language and Literature Emeritus at Princeton University, was honored for her scholarship and contributions to Princeton University. Zeitlin, who joined the faculty in 1976 and retired in 2010,  founded the school’s program in Judaic Studies in 1996, and directed it until 2005. A specialist in Greek literature from Homer to Late Antiquity, she is also an expert in gender criticism and the relationship between art and text in antiquity.