Martha Nussbaum to Give MHC Commencement Address

Thursday, April 7, 2011 - 18:11

Philosopher and author Martha Nussbaum will give the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at the 174th Mount Holyoke College commencement on Sunday, May 22. Honorary degrees will also be presented that day to former Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Margaret Marshall, California educator and mentor Nancy A. Mellor '59, and noted biologist and sustainability developer Gordon Sato.

Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, is a prolific, award-winning writer, and she is widely respected for her work in ancient philosophy, political philosophy, and ethics.

In announcing the selection of Nussbaum, Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella said, "Martha provides one of the clearest and most compelling voices in support of both liberal education and women's education as a means of promoting social justice through participatory democracy. I am thrilled that she will be joining us as we celebrate our graduates and their role as the next generation of women leaders."

Nussbaum received her B.A. from New York University, where she studied theater and classics before moving on to Harvard University to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy. Prior to moving to the University of Chicago, she taught at Harvard, Brown, and Oxford universities. From 1986 to 1993, she was a research advisor at the World Institute for Development Economics Research in Helsinki, a part of the United Nations University. Her extensive writings--including Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010) and Sex and Social Justice (2000)--have brought her wide recognition in her field and numerous honors. Her 1986 book The Fragility of Goodness, on ancient Greek ethics, made her a well-known figure throughout the humanities, while her more recent Frontiers of Justice established her as a theorist of global justice.

Honorary degree recipient Margaret Marshall retired in October from her position as the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. A native of Newcastle, South Africa, she earned a master's degree in education at Harvard University and a law degree at Yale. From 1976 to 1989, she was an associate and a partner in private practice at the Boston law firm of Csaplar & Bok; from 1989 to 1992, she was a partner in the Boston law firm of Choate, Hall & Stewart. From 1991 to 1992, she was president of the Boston Bar Association, the oldest bar association in the United States. From 1992 to 1996, she was general counsel to Harvard University.

Marshall was appointed to be an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1996 by Governor William F. Weld, and she was named chief justice in September 1999. She was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Judicial Court, the oldest appellate court in the Western Hemisphere, and the first to serve as chief justice in its more than 300-year history. Among the more than 200 opinions she wrote as justice was the decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which made same-sex marriage legal in Massachusetts.

Mount Holyoke alumna Nancy Ahlberg Mellor, class of 1959, has spent her professional career teaching math, encouraging mentoring, and supporting those with limited opportunities to pursue higher education. She began her teaching career in the classroom before rising through the educational ranks to become superintendent of the Reef-Sunset Unified School District in Central Valley, California, in 2004. Along the way, she earned a master's degree in gifted education from Johns Hopkins in 1986 and a doctorate in education from University of San Francisco in 2001.

In the mid-1980s, Mellor began advocating for Latino students, who were under-represented in her advanced math classes. She recruited them into her class, encouraged them to go to college, helped them get into the Advanced Talent Development Program (ATDP) at the University of California at Berkeley, and devised ways for them to earn money to pay for the program. She also founded the Coalinga-Huron-Avenal House, providing a place for the children of farm workers from her school district to live while attending advanced placement courses at Berkeley. Nearly 100 of her students have gone on to and graduated from college.

Biologist and entrepreneur Gordon Sato received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Southern California and his Ph.D. in biophysics from the California Institute of Technology. He has taught at Brandeis and the University of California at San Diego, and he served as the director of the W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center in Lake Placid, New York. He first attained prominence for his discovery that polypeptide factors required for the culture of mammalian cells outside the body are also important regulators of differentiated cell functions and of utility in the culture of new types of cells for use in research and biotechnology.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Sato has authored more than 150 publications in cell and molecular biology, and he has been instrumental in founding numerous biotechnology ventures, including the Manzanar Project--named for the camp in California where he and his family were interned in 1942. Through the project, he tackles the planet's most critical problems of poverty, hunger, environmental pollution, and global warming. Sato is also the subject of the internationally distributed DVD The Mangrove Man.