Veterans’ Advocate, Acclaimed Defense Attorney and Hit Songwriter Among Seven to Be Honored at Amherst College Commencement May 26
April 16, 2013
AMHERST, Mass.— Virtuosic guitarist and composer Freddie Bryant ’87, labor activist Madeline Janis ’82, veterans’ advocate Paul Rieckhoff ’98, acclaimed civil rights attorney Barry Scheck, hit songwriter Jim Steinman ’69, former Wellesley College President Diana Chapman Walsh and pioneering AIDS researcher Robert Yarchoan ’71 will all receive honorary degrees from Amherst College during its 192nd Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 26, at 10 a.m. on the school’s main quad. Amherst College President Biddy Martin will deliver the address during the May 26 ceremonies, and the seven honored guests will speak to the approximately 471 members of Amherst’s Class of 2013, 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 25. The preliminary schedule for the weekend is available on the Commencement website.
About the honorary degree recipients
Freddie Bryant Hollister ’87 (stage name: Freddie Bryant) is a virtuosic guitarist and composer who has garnered the admiration and respect of his fellow musicians and of musical critics. Currently teaching at Berklee College of Music, Bryant graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College before earning a master’s degree at the Yale School of Music. A lifelong student of the classical and jazz traditions, Bryant has evolved a style that straddles and expands upon both, in the process becoming recognized as a gifted, collaborative musician. In 2003, along with his group Kaleidoscope, Bryant was selected by the U.S. Department of State to be a “Jazz Ambassador” to the Middle East and Asia and has also toured as a solo artist for the State Department’s U.S. Speaker Program. In 2004, he was honored with a Copeland Fellowship from Amherst College. Bryant has released six CDs as a bandleader and has performed extensively in the United States and around the world with some of the finest musicians of our time.
Referred to in a 2000 Los Angeles Times profile as “the mother of Los Angeles’ ‘living wage’ movement,” Madeline Janis ’82 is a national leader in the effort to combat working poverty and rebuild the country’s middle class. Initially focused on refugee and immigrant rights, Janis co-founded the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) following L.A.’s catastrophic 1992 civil unrest. As the executive director of LAANE, she led the successful campaign to pass one of the country’s first living-wage laws. Soon after, she pioneered a new approach to economic development, negotiating the nation’s first community-benefits agreement, which has become a model for activists across the U.S. In 2004, Janis and LAANE made international news by stopping Walmart from building a superstore in the L.A.-adjacent city of Inglewood. In the past several years, she has played a pivotal role in uniting labor and environmental leaders, initiating groundbreaking campaigns to create good green jobs and reduce pollution. Under her stewardship, LAANE helped enact an EPA-award-winning program to remove thousands of diesel trucks from the roads and launched a successful effort to clean up the country’s largest publicly owned utility. In 2012, Janis assumed her current role of national policy director for LAANE, and she is now leading an ambitious campaign to help revive American manufacturing through the creation of middle-class jobs in clean transportation. Currently a senior fellow at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, she served for 10 years as a volunteer commissioner with L.A.’s Community Redevelopment Agency. She serves on the boards of directors of several progressive nonprofits and blogs regularly on economic and political issues. A proud mother of three wonderful kids and stepmom to two more, she lives with her husband Donald Cohen in L.A.’s Highland Park neighborhood.
Paul Rieckhoff ’98 is the founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), America’s first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rieckhoff was among the first responders to the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. From 2003 to 2004, he served as an Army First Lieutenant and infantry rifle platoon leader in Iraq. A nationally recognized authority on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and a broad range of issues affecting troops, veterans and their families, he has appeared on hundreds of television and radio programs including Meet the Press, The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, State of the Union on CNN, various news programs on Fox News, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, NPR's All Things Considered and NBC Nightly News. Most recently, Rieckhoff was in Rolling Stone’s List of 12 Leaders Who Get Things Done. In addition, Rieckhoff was featured on the cover of TIME magazine in August 2011 along with four IAVA members. Rieckhoff is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and also serves on the New York State Council on Returning Veterans and their Families. In 2010, he was inducted into the Global Ashoka Fellowship in recognition of his innovation and entrepreneurship on behalf of new veterans. Rieckhoff is a Hunt Prime Mover Fellow, a TED member and an Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar. He is a graduate of Amherst College.
Barry Scheck is an acclaimed civil rights attorney, professor and writer who rose to fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s for his defense of Hedda Nussbaum and Louise Woodward. During this same period, Scheck, a graduate of Yale and of Berkeley Law, and Peter Neufeld, a former colleague from the Legal Aid Society, who would later join Scheck on O.J. Simpson’s defense team, became intrigued with the possible transfer of DNA testing from the scientific realm to the forensics arena. First learning all they could about the nascent technology, Scheck and Neufeld later sought to introduce it in criminal cases. Soon thereafter, and due in large part to Scheck and Neufeld’s advocacy, the assay began to be embraced by the legal community as a valid and reliable forensic discipline, one with the potential to free the innocent and convict the guilty, which is what prompted Scheck and Neufeld to create the Innocence Project in 1992. Post-conviction DNA testing has freed more than 305 wrongly convicted prisoners since 1989 and identified the guilty party in more than 170 of those cases. Affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, the Innocence Project, since its inception, has successfully pursued reform measures to remedy the causes of wrongful convictions across the country and inspired an international “innocence movement” to correct miscarriages of justice. Scheck has received many notable honors for his efforts.
Since his days as a young opera fan and a creator of daring theatrical works at Amherst, Jim Steinman ’69 has sold more than 150 million records and has become the composer, lyricist, producer and arranger behind such hits as “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “Making Love Out of Nothing at All,” “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” and is perhaps best known for writing such songs as “Bat Out Of Hell” and “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” on Bat Out of Hell—the second best-selling record of all time—and “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” on Bat Out Of Hell II. As of the week of April 15, 2013, Bat Out Of Hell is number nine on the UK album charts, after 35 years. Steinman also wrote only the lyrics for the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Whistle Down the Wind, composed only the score for Roman Polanski’s musical Tanz der Vampire (now in Berlin in its 15th consecutive year) and contributed to the soundtrack of Footloose (“Holding Out for a Hero”) and Streets Of Fire, among other movie soundtracks. His current works-in-progress include a stage musical version of Bat Out of Hell to be directed by Kenny Ortega (director of the High School Musical films, Newsies and This Is It, Michael Jackson’s final tour and the film of it) in 2014, and Nutz, a heavy-metal version of The Nutcracker to begin late 2013, directed by Terry Jones (an original Monty Python member). In June 2012, Steinman was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Diana Chapman Walsh was the 12th president of Wellesley College, from 1993 to 2007, a period that included a revision of the curriculum and expanded programs in global education, internships and service learning, and interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Before that, Walsh was the Norman Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, where she chaired the Department of Health and Social Behavior. She reinvigorated that department and founded its Program on Society and Health. Prior to joining the Harvard faculty, she was at Boston University as a University Professor and professor of social and behavioral sciences in the School of Public Health and associate director of the Health Policy Institute. A 1966 graduate of Wellesley and an English major, she earned an M.S. degree in journalism (1971) from Boston University and a Ph.D. in health policy from the University Professors Program (1983). As a Kellogg National Fellow (1987–1990), Walsh traveled through the U.S. and abroad, studying workplace democracy and principles of leadership and writing poetry. She has written, edited and co-edited about 60 articles and book chapters, 13 policy monographs and a study of the practice of medicine within corporations titled Corporate Physicians: Between Medicine and Management. She co-edited Society and Health, an analysis of social and cultural determinants of health and illness. Walsh serves on the governing boards of MIT, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the Mind and Life Institute and on national advisory boards. She was a member of the board of directors of the State Street Corporation (1999–2007) and a trustee of Amherst College (1998–2010). A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she writes, speaks and consults on higher education and leadership, among other subjects.
Robert Yarchoan ’71 is a member of the three-person National Cancer Institute team that developed the first effective therapies for HIV infection, including zidovudine (AZT), didanosine (ddI) and zalcitabine (ddC). In particular, he led the first clinical trials of these drugs, was a co-inventor of ddI and ddC as AIDS therapies and led initial studies of combination anti-HIV therapy. Yarchoan is chief of the National Cancer Institute’s HIV and AIDS Malignancy Branch and, since 2007, director of the Office of HIV and AIDS Malignancy, which coordinates and prioritizes the HIV/AIDS and AIDS malignancy research portfolio throughout the National Cancer Institute. For his vastly important contributions to medicine and science, Yarchoan has received numerous honors, including the Assistant Secretary for Health Award, the U.S. Public Health Service Outstanding Service Medal, the first NIH World AIDS Day Award and—with Drs. Samuel Broder, Hiroaki Mitsuya and Robert C. Gallo—the NCI HIV/AIDS Research Excellence Award. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of The American Society for Clinical Investigation. Yarchoan is the father of an Amherst College alumnus, Mark Yarchoan ’07, and a soon-to-be Amherst alumnus, John Yarchoan ’13.
About Amherst College
Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with 1,800 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 37 fields of study. Sixty percent of Amherst students receive need-based financial aid.