Physician, researcher, best-selling author Siddhartha Mukherjee to speak at Penn’s 268th Commencement

At the Commencement ceremony on Monday, May 20, Mukherjee will receive an honorary doctor of sciences degree, along with the other 2024 Penn honorary degree recipients.

Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Physician, biologist, and author Siddhartha Mukherjee. (Image: Deborah Feingold)

Physician, researcher, and best-selling author Siddhartha Mukherjee will deliver the address at the 2024 University of Pennsylvania Commencement on Monday, May 20, at Franklin Field. The announcement was made today by Vice President and University Secretary Medha Narvekar.

“I am delighted that Siddhartha Mukherjee has accepted our invitation to address the Class of 2024 at Commencement,” said Penn Interim President J. Larry Jameson. “Dr. Mukherjee is a brilliant oncologist and researcher who has provided an invaluable service to the world by conveying the history and complexity of important medical subjects through his acclaimed writings. It will be a day to remember as he shares his passion and wisdom with our graduates and their families.”

Mukherjee is an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University and an oncologist at the university’s medical center. He is best known as the Pulitzer-winning author of “The Emperor of All Maladies” (2011), along with “The Gene: An Intimate History” (2016), and “The Song of the Cell” (2022)—a trilogy of books that has contributed to the public discourse on human health, medicine, and science.

“The Emperor of All Maladies” was included among Time magazine’s 100 best nonfiction books of the past century, and both “The Emperor of All Maladies” and “The Gene” were adapted into PBS documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns.

A pioneering medical scholar, Mukherjee has conducted groundbreaking studies into the composition and behavior of cancer cells that have pushed the boundaries of modern medicine. His innovative research signals a paradigm shift in cancer pathology and has enabled the development of treatments that reach beyond current pharmaceutical models toward new biological and cellular therapies.

Mukherjee writes for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and many other publications. His original research and opinions have been published in journals such as Nature, Cell, and The New England Journal of Medicine and he has received numerous awards for his scientific work.

At the Commencement ceremony, Mukherjee will receive an honorary doctor of sciences degree.

The other 2024 Penn honorary degree recipients will be Ingrid Daubechies, Karl Deisseroth, Kenneth (Kenny) Gamble, Leon Huff, and Maya Lin.

“We are so very honored to welcome six incredibly accomplished individuals to this year’s Commencement, including Siddhartha Mukherjee who will address our graduates,” said Julie Platt, chair of the Trustee Honorary Degrees and Awards Committee. “Each of our honorary degree recipients has made contributions of great significance to their field—and to people around the globe—and we look forward to celebrating them with the entire Penn community.”

Ingrid Daubechies is the James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University and her academic work focuses on mathematical tools for analysis of signals, images, and data. She is recognized for constructing particularly convenient families of wavelets, mathematical tools, that enable the compression of images without loss of the crisp detail; their use has become commonplace on today’s electronic screens. She frequently collaborates with experts in a wide range of fields, such as geophysics, neuroscience, biological morphology, medical imaging, and art conservation. Daubechies has received numerous awards and was the first woman to receive the Wolf Prize, one of the most prestigious in mathematics. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Science, as well as a fellow of the American Mathematical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Daubechies will receive an honorary doctor of sciences degree.

Karl Deisseroth is the D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is a practicing psychiatrist at Stanford with specialization in major depression and autism-spectrum disease, employing medications along with neural stimulation. Deisseroth’s lab has developed groundbreaking technologies to better understand brain circuitry and improve mental health care, including optogenetics, which engineers individual brain cells to be controlled by light, and CLARITY, which allows for the investigation of intact biological systems. The lab is also known for discovering the high-resolution structural principles of light-gated ion conduction. Among his many honors, Deisseroth is the recipient of the Lurie Prize, the Albany Prize, and the Japan Prize and is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering. In 2021, he published a highly acclaimed first book, “Projections: A Story of Human Emotions,” a work of literary nonfiction in which he shares perspectives on his patients with psychiatric disorders. Deisseroth will receive an honorary doctor of sciences degree.

In the mid-1960s, Philadelphia’s own Kenny Gamble met Camden native and pianist Leon Huff and the two quickly discovered their shared love of songwriting and composing. The pair created “Philadelphia International Records” (PIR) in 1971. Through then-CBS Records president Clive Davis, PIR secured a distribution deal through America’s largest record label. PIR produced R&B and pop hits co-written by Gamble and Huff including “Love Train,” “Me and Mrs. Jones,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” and quickly became the second largest African American-owned music company in the United States, just behind Motown. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Gamble cut his first records at local penny arcade recording booths, brought coffee to WDAS morning radio personalities Georgie Woods and Jimmy Bishop, and operated his own record store in South Philadelphia. Together with Huff, he produced what came to be widely known as “The Philly Sound.” In 2008, Gamble and Huff were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame earning the inaugural Ahmet Ertegun Award. Gamble will receive an honorary doctor of music degree.

Born in Camden, New Jersey, Leon Huff was first exposed to music through his mother, who taught him the basics on the family’s piano, the only one on the block. He went on to receive formal training and performed as a session musician with his musical idols, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, and many others. In 1971, Huff and Kenny Gamble formed the label “Philadelphia International Records” (PIR) formalizing their songwriting and production partnership. A distribution deal with CBS followed, and with a stable core of artists including the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, and Billy Paul, PIR generated countless hits. Huff has written or co-written more than 3,500 songs over 60 years, including R&B #1 hits, pop #1 hits, and gold and platinum records. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” co-written with Gamble, earned the duo their first Grammy Award. Among many honors, Huff and Gamble are inductees in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and received the Trustees Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Huff will receive an honorary doctor of music degree.

Artist, designer, and environmentalist Maya Lin interprets the natural world through science, history, and culture. Highly acclaimed for her career in art and architecture, Lin’s work memorializes some of the critical historical issues of our time. She is recognized around the world for her distinct aesthetic vision with groundbreaking site-specific art installations, such as her very first work, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, and the recent Madison Square Park installation, Ghost Forest, and Decoding the Tree of Life for Penn Medicine’s Pavilion. Celebrated architectural projects range from the Nielsen Library for Smith College to Novartis’ campus headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in progress the new design for the Museum of Chinese in America in downtown Manhattan. Employing sustainable and site sensitive design methods, Lin is currently at work on “What is Missing?”—a cross-platform work calling attention to issues of biodiversity, habitat loss, and climate change. Profiled in TIME magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and The New Yorker, Lin holds many honors including the National Medal of Arts (2009) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2016). Lin will receive an honorary doctor of arts degree.

Event details, including how to view the event online, are available on Penn’s 2024 Commencement page.