Citation for Neil deGrasse Tyson

Monday, May 21, 2012 - 13:00

Honorary degree recipient

(See the video of Tyson's acceptance speech.)

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, Director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium, prolific author, host of the PBS series Nova Science Now, frequent guest on programs like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, with half a million Twitter followers, you have become outer space’s most ardent and best-known advocate here on planet Earth. A product of the Bronx High School of Science, you did your undergraduate degree in physics at Harvard, your Ph.D. in astrophysics at Columbia, and a postdoc at Princeton. You are the founder and chair of the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History, of which the Hayden Planetarium is a part. You have taught at Princeton and at Columbia, and as writer in residence for the Department of English at Yeshiva University.

Your research interests include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of the Milky Way. Your data comes from the Hubble Space Telescope and from telescopes in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and the Andes Mountains of Chile. In addition to your dozens of academic and professional publications, you write and speak and show the stars to a large and appreciative public. This wider work stands as one of the most significant contributions to the advancement of scientific literacy in our time. It is especially for this that we honor you today.

The titles of your astonishing array of books convey both the range and the joyful spirit with which you take us along on your forays into the cosmos: Merlin’s Tour of the Universe (1989), Universe Down to Earth (1994), Just Visiting this Planet (1998), The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist (2000), One Universe (2000), Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution (the companion book to the PBS-NOVA series that premiered in 2004), Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007), and The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of American’s Favorite Planet (2009), with its delightful editorial cartoons, notes from schoolchildren, and immensely readable account of your experience at the center of the controversy over Pluto’s status as a planet. Just this year you published Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, on the future of space travel and American’s role in that future. You are now shooting a remake of Carl Sagan’s landmark Cosmos series to air in 2013.

You have received NASA’s distinguished public service medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by that organization. You hold over a dozen honorary degrees, including the one awarded yesterday but not yet counting the one I hold in my hand, and you have been named one of Harvard’s 100 most influential alumni, one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, and—by who other than People magazine—sexiest astrophysicist alive. More importantly, and certainly more permanently, the International Astronomical Union officially named an asteroid after you: “13123 Tyson.”

Above all, you teach. You are equally at home talking to fellow scientists, challenging school kids into that “aha” moment they will never forget, and reminding Jon Stewart that the Earth on his show is spinning in the wrong direction. You speak, as you said in the dedication to your book Origins, “to all those who look up, and to all those who do not yet know why they should.” For showing us the wonders above, Mount Holyoke is proud to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.