April 20, 2010

AMHERST, Mass.—South African activist Zackie Achmat, founder of the AIDS/HIV advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign (TAC); Joshua M. Epstein ’76, a pioneer in agent-based computational modeling; Walter Dean Myers, author of children’s and young adult literature; Sir Paul Nurse, president of Rockefeller University and Nobel laureate; advocate Harvey J. Rosenfield ’74, founder of Consumer Watchdog; Mary Jo Salter, an award-winning poet who is also a playwright, lyricist, essayist and reviewer; Dame Marjorie Scardino, CEO of the education and media company Pearson PLC; and Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, will all receive honorary degrees from Amherst College during its 189th Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 23, at 10 a.m. on the school’s campus. Though Amherst President Anthony W. Marx will deliver the address during the May 23 ceremonies, the eight honored guests will speak to the approximately 436 members of Amherst’s Class of 2010, 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 22. The schedule of discussions with the honorands is available on the Commencement website.

About the honorary degree recipients

Zachie AchmatZackie Achmat
Achmat is founder and former chairman of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a community-based organization that uses civil disobedience and other tactics to educate the public about HIV and AIDS, to call for changes in government policy toward the disease and to expand patients’ access to treatment. The TAC has won several important court cases related to AIDS treatment and is credited with successfully pressuring the AIDS-denialist government under former president Thabo Mbeki to make antiretroviral drugs available to all South Africans. Before helping to found the TAC in 2006, Achmat was an activist against the apartheid government (he was even sent to prison on several occasions for his anti-apartheid protests), founder of the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and director of the AIDS Law Project. In 2008, he jointly founded the Social Justice Coalition to promote the constitutional rights of South Africa’s poor and unemployed. He is also the current director of Cape Town’s Centre for Law & Social Justice. Achmat’s previous honors include a Desmond Tutu Leadership Award and the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights.

Joshua M. Epstein '76Joshua M. Epstein ’76
Epstein is director of the Center on Social and Economic Dynamics and a senior fellow in economic studies at The Brookings Institution. A founding innovator in agent-based computational modeling (ABM), in which large-scale social dynamics are generated “from the bottom up” through the interactions of behaviorally realistic software individuals, Epstein has used “artificial societies” in pioneering studies of contagious disease, violence and economic dynamics. He leads modeling efforts at the Johns Hopkins University Center for the Study of Preparedness and Catastrophic Event Response and the National Institutes of Health Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Amherst and a Ph.D. from MIT and has taught at Princeton and lectured worldwide. In 2008, the NIH honored Epstein with the Director’s Pioneer Award. On July 1, he will become Professor of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins, with joint professorships in economics, biostatistics and public health.

Walter Dean MeyersWalter Dean Myers
For four decades, Myers has been a prolific and influential author of books for children and young adults—most recently the novel Riot, about the New York Draft Riots of 1863. His dozens of publications include tales of war, African-American history and his own childhood in Harlem. But Myers most often writes about the challenges of urban adolescent life: gang violence, drug abuse and peer pressure. His 2009 novel Dope Sick is the centerpiece of the Second Chance Initiative, a collaboration between Myers, AdLit.org and the National Education Association to motivate at-risk teens to make positive life choices. For works such as Monster, Motown and Didi: A Love Story, Fallen Angels and Autobiography of My Dead Brother, the author has been honored with the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime contribution to young adult literature, a Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, five Coretta Scott King Awards and two Newbery Awards.

Paul NursePaul Nurse
Nurse is a British geneticist whose many honors include the Royal Society’s Royal and Copley Medals, a French Legion d’Honneur and a 2001 Nobel Prize. He is credited with identifying the key genes that regulate the reproductive cycles of cells in yeasts and humans. His findings have important implications for the study of human growth and for the development of cancer treatments. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Birmingham and a doctorate from the University of East Anglia. A former Director General of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now called Cancer Research UK), Nurse is currently president of Rockefeller University in New York City and head of the university’s Laboratory of Yeast Genetics and Cell Biology, where his research continues.

Harvey J. Rosenfield '74Harvey J. Rosenfield ’74
Rosenfield is the founder of Consumer Watchdog, a California-based nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer protection organization. Consumer Watchdog advocates for insurance and health care reform, stronger privacy rights, energy industry accountability and greater citizen participation in democracy. The organization fights what it calls “corporateering”—“the act of prioritizing commercial gain over individual, social or cultural gain.” Rosenfield worked for Ralph Nader’s Congress Watch from 1979 to 1981 and then was program director for the California Public Interest Research Group from 1982 to 1985. He wrote the landmark ballot initiative Proposition 103, passed by California voters in 1988, which required insurance companies to refund over $1.2 billion to California motorists and has saved the state’s consumers more than $62 billion through stringent regulation of insurance company rates and practices. He is a 1974 graduate of Amherst and holds a J.D. and master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University.

Mary Jo SalterMary Jo Salter
Salter is an award-winning poet, as well as a playwright, lyricist and essayist. Director of graduate studies at The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, she taught at Mount Holyoke College from 1984 to 2007. She is a co-editor of The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Her book Unfinished Painting won the 1989 Lamont Poetry Prize and Open Shutters was a New York Times “notable book of the year” for 2003. Her other works include Henry Purcell in Japan, Sunday Skaters, A Kiss in Space, A Phone Call to the Future, the children’s book The Moon Comes Home and the play Falling Bodies, first performed at Mount Holyoke in 2004. Salter wrote the lyrics for the song cycles “Rooms of Light” and “The Drift of Melancholy,” each of which premiered at Lincoln Center in 2007. The Selected Poems of Amy Clampitt, which Salter edited with commentary, will be published later this year.

Marjorie ScardinoMarjorie Scardino
Scardino became the United Kingdom’s first female chief executive of a top-100 company in 1997, when she was appointed CEO of the education and media company Pearson PLC. Originally from the southwest United States, Scardino graduated from Baylor University and the University of San Francisco School of Law. She and her husband launched the short-lived but Pulitzer Prize-winning weekly newspaper the Georgia Gazette. From 1985 to 1997, she was president of the North American operations of the Economist Group and then CEO of the Economist Group. In addition to her position at Pearson, Scardino currently serves as a non-executive director of Nokia, a trustee of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and Oxfam and a member of the boards of the MacArthur Foundation and the Carter Center. She is also an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2002, Queen Elizabeth II made her a Dame of the British Empire in recognition of her contributions to the media.

Jimmy WalesJimmy Wales
In 2001, Wales founded and helped launch Wikipedia, now the world’s largest encyclopedia, which is written and edited collaboratively online by thousands of volunteers around the world.  Two years later, he established the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which owns and operates Wikipedia as a charity. In 2004, he and Angela Beesley founded Wikia.com, now the 75th most popular Web destination. Wales is currently an advisory board member of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, board member of the nonprofit copyright-licensing organization Creative Commons and the online decision-making system Hunch.com. His many honors in recent years include being named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2006 and receiving a Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Economist’s Business Process Award, the Monaco Media Prize and the 2009 Nokia Foundation Award “for his contributions to the evolution of the World Wide Web as a participatory and truly democratic platform.”

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.