Award-Winning Actor Denzel Washington Delivers Penn’s 255th Commencement Address

PHILADELPHIA — Under cloudy skies, Denzel Washington, internationally renowned actor and director, delivered the address at the University of Pennsylvania’s 255th Commencement today, Monday, May 16.

Washington is one of the nation’s preeminent performing artists, having achieved wide acclaim for his film, theatrical and television performances, as well as his accomplishments in film directing and television production.

“Denzel Washington has used his tremendous talent as an actor to bring the most significant social and historical issues into the limelight — from portraying a South African freedom fighter, a dedicated educator of young minds, and a homophobic lawyer rising to the defense of a gay man to portraying of one America’s most passionate civil rights activists,“ Penn President Amy Gutmann said.  “He is also recognized for his inspiring work in public service, most particularly with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, an organization to which he belonged in his youth and now helps guide by serving as a board member, donor and longtime spokesperson.”

Washington has received the most distinguished accolades of his art, including two Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, a Tony Award, an American Film Institute Award, several NAACP Image Awards, and the Stanley Kramer Award of the Producers Guild of America.  He also holds honorary degrees from Fordham University, his alma mater, and Morehouse College.  At Commencement, Washington will receive an honorary doctor of arts degree.

Other 2011 Penn honorary degree recipients include:
·     Renée C. Fox, the Annenberg Professor Emerita of the Social Sciences at Penn and a pioneer in the field of medical sociology.  Known for her innovative and daring thinking, Fox spent more than a half a century delving into societal and cultural questions associated with medical research, therapeutic innovation, medical education and medical ethics. She is one of the first women to be named a full professor at Penn and to hold an endowed chair and the first woman to chair an academic department.  Fox will be awarded an honorary doctor of science degree.

·     Mo Ibrahim, the mobile communications entrepreneur who founded Celtel, a company that brought cellular telephone service to more than a third of the population in his native Africa, where inadequate landlines previously hampered economic development.  When he sold the company seven years later, he used the proceeds to launch the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an organization dedicated to strengthening governance and leadership in Africa.  Ibrahim will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.

·    Nicholas D. Kristof, columnist at The New York Times, and Sheryl WuDunn, senior managing director, Mid-Market Securities, and president of the social investing consultancy, TripleEdge.  The first husband-wife team to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism for their coverage of the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Kristof and WuDunn are co-authors of many best-selling books. Their most recent work, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” chronicles both the plight and the heroism of women and girls overcoming oppression.  "Half the Sky" is now the basis of a multimedia initiative to help fight poverty and empower women around the world. Kristof, who continues to report on atrocities against human rights through his regular columns, was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for his commentary on genocide in Darfur.  WuDunn, the first Asian-American reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize, also worked at the Times as an editor for international markets, energy, and industry, as a foreign correspondent in Tokyo and Beijing and as the inaugural anchor of an evening news program on its related cable channel, Discovery Times. Kristof and WuDunn will receive honorary doctor of humane letters degrees.

·      Ei-ichi Negishi, the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Penn and is the seventh person associated with Penn’s Department of Chemistry to win the Nobel Prize. Dr. Negishi developed an innovative method for using the metal palladium to link carbon molecules into larger, more complex structures.  The method is now used in research and industry worldwide to create substances with purposes as diverse as fighting AIDS and cancer, protecting crops, contributing to DNA sequencing and illuminating the ultra-thin monitors that have revolutionized so many endeavors.  He is the Herbert C. Brown Distinguished Professor of Organic Chemistry at Purdue University.  Negishi will be awarded an honorary doctor of science degree.

·     Joyce Carol Oates, award-winning author, poet and playwright whose work has illuminated timely and urgent themes of political and domestic violence, racism, and socio-economic crises.  Princeton’s Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor of the Humanities and a faculty member since 1978, Oates has penned more than 50 novels, including the national best-sellers “We Were the Mulvaneys”, “Blonde” and “them”, as well as short stories, plays, poetry, literary criticism and essays in the course of a writing career that has spanned five decades.   She recently received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama.  Oates will be awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.