May 7, 2008
Contact: Caroline Jenkins Hanna
Director of Media Relations


AMHERST, Mass.—Robert H. Brown Jr. ’69, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and director of the Day Neuromuscular Research Laboratory and Muscular Dystrophy Association clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital; Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone; Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency; Henry A. Freedman ’62, executive director of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice; Shirley M. Tilghman, president of Princeton University; Sir Brian Urquhart, former undersecretary-general of the United Nations; and Saraswathi Vedam ’78, professor and director of the University of British Columbia’s division of midwifery, will all receive honorary degrees from Amherst College during the school’s 187th commencement exercises Sunday, May 25, at 10 a.m. While Amherst President Anthony W. Marx will deliver the address during the ceremonies May 25, the seven honored guests will speak to the 446 members of Amherst’s Class of 2008, their families and friends and the college and Western Massachusetts communities in a series of conversations that are free and open to the public on Saturday, May 24. The schedule of discussions with the honorands is available at the commencement Web site.

About the honorary degree recipients

After graduating from Amherst magna cum laude with a major in biophysics, Robert H. Brown Jr. ’69 earned his medical degree at Harvard Medical School and completed doctoral training in neurophysiology at Oxford University in England. He returned to Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, first as a neurology resident and then as a faculty member in the neurology department; he is presently a full professor. In 1984, he founded the Day Neuromuscular Research Laboratory to investigate amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and muscular dystrophies. 

 With collaborators at the Day Laboratory and elsewhere, Brown has identified gene defects that cause several neuromuscular diseases—including familial ALS—and his organization is now an internationally recognized center for research and clinical care in neuromuscular disorders. Brown himself is widely considered an expert on neuromuscular illnesses, having authored or co-authored more than 200 scholarly papers on related research that have been published in such distinguished publications as Science, Cell, Nature and The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His current work includes further efforts to identify genetic factors that cause such disorders and develop new treatment strategies for them.

Geoffrey Canada, who grew up in the South Bronx, has dedicated his life to helping disadvantaged youth secure educational and economic opportunities, and he enjoys a national reputation as both an advocate for and an expert on issues concerning violence, children and community redevelopment. The author of Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America, he was named president and CEO for the Harlem Children’s Zone in 1990, and has since helped launch the agency’s acclaimed Children’s Zone Project, which offers an interlocking network of social service, education and community-building programs to thousands of children and families in a 100-block area of Central Harlem.

Canada holds a bachelor of arts degree from Bowdoin College and a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and has won numerous awards, including the first-ever Heinz Award in the Human Condition, a Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education, a Jefferson Award for Public Service and a Robin Hood Foundation’s Heroes of the Year Award. In October 2005, he was named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News & World Report.

Mohamed ElBaradei, who earned a bachelor’s degree in law at Cairo University and a doctorate in international law at the New York University School of Law, began his career in 1964 when he joined the Egyptian Diplomatic Service and went on to become involved with many international and regional organizations, such as the U.N. General Assembly, the U.N. Security Council, the Conference on Disarmament and the World Health Organization. In 1984, he began his involvement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an intergovernmental organization that is part of the U.N. system. He was appointed director general of the agency in December 1997 and then reappointed twice, the third time in September 2005.

During his career as a diplomat, international civil servant and scholar, ElBaradei has become closely familiar with the work and processes of global organizations, particularly in the fields of international peace and security and international development. In October 2005, he and the IAEA were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way.” In addition to that honor, ElBaradei has received multiple other awards for his work as a public servant and as an advocate of tolerance, humanity and freedom. These include the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal, the Golden Dove of Peace prize from the President of Italy and the Greatest Nile Collar, the highest Egyptian civilian decoration.

Prior to joining the National Center for Law and Economic Justice—which works to advance the cause of economic justice for low-income families, individuals and communities—in the 1960s and becoming executive director of the organization, Henry A. Freedman ’62 had been in private practice in New York City and taught at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C. He has also spent time in the classroom, teaching at the law schools of Columbia University and New York University, as well as for the social work programs of Columbia and Fordham University. He has chaired the New York City Bar Association Committee on Legal Assistance and successfully argued cases in federal courts around the country, including Califano v. Westcott, a 1979 Supreme Court case that found that providing benefits to families of unemployed fathers but not families of unemployed mothers was unconstitutional sex discrimination.

Among his many accolades, Freedman has received the National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s Reginald Heber Smith Award for Dedicated Service, the New York State Bar Association’s Public Interest Law Award and the William Nelson Cromwell Medal of the New York County Lawyers’ Association. He earned his law degree at Yale Law School.

Shirley M. Tilghman was elected Princeton University’s 19th president on May 5, 2001, and has already left a lasting imprint on the school. Among other initiatives, she has overseen an expansion of Princeton’s residential college system, the creation of a neuroscience institute and a major new commitment to the creative and performing arts. An exceptional teacher and a leader in the field of molecular biology, she joined Princeton’s faculty in 1986 and has served as the founding director of university’s multidisciplinary Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and as chair of the Council on Science and Technology. She has also worked with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the National Institutes of Health and the National Advisory Council of the Human Genome Project, among other organizations. She is widely known not only for her pioneering research (including her involvement in the cloning of the first mammalian gene), but also for her national leadership on behalf of women in science and for promoting efforts to make the early careers of young scientists as meaningful and productive as possible.

A native of Canada, Tilghman received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. After two years of secondary school teaching in Sierra Leone, West Africa, she obtained her doctorate in biochemistry from Temple University in Philadelphia. In 2002, she was one of five winners of the L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science. The following year, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Developmental Biology, and in 2007 was awarded the Genetics Society of America Medal for outstanding contributions to her field.

Sir Brian Urquhart was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford. After six wartime years in the British army, he joined the U.N.’s Preparatory Commission in August 1945. From 1946 to 1949 he was personal assistant to the organization’s first secretary-general, Trygve Lie, and then, from 1954 to 1971, he worked under Lie successor Dag Hammarskjöld and diplomat Ralph Bunche on conflict control and setting up and running peacekeeping operations in the Middle East, Lebanon, Cyprus, Kashmir and the Congo. He was also involved in coordinating the first two conferences on peaceful uses of atomic energy and creating the IAEA.

From 1972 to 1986, as undersecretary-general for special political affairs, he was a principal political adviser to the secretary-general and worked on peacekeeping operations and conflict control. Upon retiring from the United Nations in 1986, he was scholar-in-residence at the Ford Foundation until 1995. His books include Hammarskjöld, the definitive biography on the former secretary-general, Ralphe Bunche: An American Odyssey and a memoir, A Life in Peace and War. He writes regularly for The New York Review of Books.  

Saraswathi Vedam ’78 was introduced to women’s health care advocacy during her undergraduate years at Amherst when she helped initiate a peer contraceptive and gynecological counseling service and lobbied for a nurse-practitioner for the college’s group of newly admitted women students in the mid-1970s. In 1985, she completed a master of science in nurse-midwifery at Yale University and went on to care for families as a midwife in a variety of private and public health care settings. An enthusiastic and passionate teacher, she has taught midwifery and medical students in universities across North America with such success that her pupils have twice nominated her for the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM) Excellence in Teaching Award. In 2007, she was recruited to direct the division of midwifery at University of British Columbia.

In addition to her work as both practitioner and faculty member, Vedam has been active in setting national and international birth policy, having served as an expert consultant to the Hungarian Health Ministry and Alternatal Foundation as they developed national guidelines for home birth care and as chair of both the Homebirth Section of the ACNM Division of Standards and Practice and the Research and Publications Division for the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA). She has authored several national clinical practice guidelines and articles on evidence-based midwifery practice in low-resource settings and helped develop the first national registry of home birth perinatal data. She has also served as a leader of several initiatives to increase diversity in education and midwifery care for diverse populations. The proud mother of four biracial and bicultural daughters, she gave birth to all of her children at home.

About Amherst

Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with approximately 1,600 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B. A. degree in 34 fields of study.