April 15, 2014
AMHERST, Mass.—Political and cultural commentator David Brooks, Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Cullen Jones, tech entrepreneur Thai-Hi Lee ’80, statistician and writer Nate Silver, contemporary artist Sarah Sze, the late American studies scholar and transportation expert Yasuo Sakakibara and former Amherst College Board of Trustees chair and businessman Jide Zeitlin ’85 will all receive honorary degrees from Amherst College during its 193rd Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 25, at 10 a.m. on the school’s main quad. Amherst College President Biddy Martin will deliver the address during the ceremony, and Brooks, Jones, Lee, Silver, Sze and Zeitlin will all speak to the approximately 480 members of Amherst’s Class of 2014, 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 preliminary schedule for the weekend is available on the Commencement website.
About the honorary degree recipients
David Brooks is a New York Times op-ed columnist, an analyst on PBS NewsHour and a frequent guest commentator on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and The Diane Rehm Show. A 1983 graduate of The University of Chicago, where he majored in history and wrote for the student newspaper, Brooks has worked for some of the nation’s premier news outlets, including National Review, The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard. His articles have appeared in numerous other newspapers and magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement, Forbes, The Washington Post, Commentary and The Public Interest. He is the author of several books. While politically aligned with the conservative movement, Brooks rarely offers partisan analyses. Known for his exuberant, concise writing style and for using humor to convey his sentiments, he is frequently cited for his balanced reporting. A 2010 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Brooks has been a guest on the Amherst College campus in the past, most recently as a participant in a colloquium that featured cultural commentary on the 2008 presidential race.
Cullen Jones is a record-breaking swimmer and four-time Olympic medalist. Outside the pool, he is a an advocate and philanthropist, working to bring diversity to his sport as part of the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash initiative and as the face of Speedo’s Learn to Swim program, through which he teaches a new generation of urban children how to swim safely. Last fall, he launched the Cullen Jones Diversity Invitational, a meet involving more than 500 young swimmers that focused on competition, education and fundraising. Born in the Bronx, Jones later moved with his family to Irvington, N.J. At age 5, he nearly drowned, prompting his mother to enroll him in swimming lessons. As an African-American, he was a minority within the sport, but he excelled, earning a scholarship to North Carolina State University, where he studied English and became an NCAA national champion. He turned professional in 2006, setting records on the way to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where he won gold, and the London Olympics in 2012, from which he brought home another gold medal along with two silvers. Amherst College celebrates Jones’ pathbreaking contributions to competitive swimming.
Thai-Hi Lee ’80 is president and CEO of SHI International Corp., a global provider of information technology software, hardware and professional services. Graduating with Amherst’s first fully coed class, Lee went on to earn her MBA at Harvard Business School in 1985, becoming the first Korean woman to do so. Since purchasing a small division of Software House (the precursor to SHI) in 1989, Lee and her team have transformed the company from a $1 million regional value-added reseller into a $5 billion corporation with more than 2,700 employees worldwide. For her creative, customer-oriented approach to growing SHI, Lee received an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2012 Award for New Jersey. The same year, the online publication NJBIZ named SHI one of the “Best Places to Work in NJ.” Last year, Lee received an Alumni Achievement Award from Harvard Business School. Lee is a member of the board of directors of The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. She has also remained highly involved with Amherst, serving as a term trustee of the college from 1993 to 1999 and as Alumni Council president from 2004 to 2005.
Yasuo Sakakibara (1929–2013), an authority on transportation economics and a creator of the field of American studies in Japan, had a 60-year connection with Amherst College. He enrolled as a special student in 1954 and studied English, economics and American history and literature. Sakakibara returned to Japan and was appointed to the economics department of Kyoto’s Doshisha University. In the 1990s, he led the planning for Kansai International Airport near Osaka, which brought direct international flights to that part of Japan, changing the region’s economic relationship with the rest of the world. Sakakibara’s interest in American studies was initially piqued when he read the translated writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, Charles A. Beard and Paul Samuelson. A prolific writer on a wide variety of topics related to the United States, he was central in the creation of an interdisciplinary graduate program in American studies at Doshisha and acted as the program’s first dean. In recognition of this work, the American Studies Association established the Yasuo Sakakibara Prize in 2001 and awards it annually to the best paper on American history, culture or society presented at the association’s annual meeting.
Statistician and writer Nate Silver is editor-in-chief of ESPN’s recently relaunched FiveThirtyEight and a special correspondent for ABC News. Born in East Lansing, Mich., Silver earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at The University of Chicago and also studied at the London School of Economics. An avid baseball fan, he first gained recognition for devising the Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm (PECOTA) to forecast the career development of Major League players. Later, Silver analyzed the 2008 U.S. presidential election, correctly predicting results in 49 states plus every winner in the 35 U.S. Senate races that year—a feat that brought him widespread renown. After the election, Silver’s original FiveThirtyEight blog was licensed by The New York Times and named “Best Political Blog” by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, earning him Webby Awards in 2012 and 2013. His several books include The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—but Some Don’t, which reached the New York Times best-seller list and received the 2013 Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science. Amherst celebrates Silver’s contributions to the field of statistics, which the college will offer as a major beginning this fall.
Sarah Sze is a contemporary artist who explores the abundance of information and objects in contemporary life through large-scale sculptures. Incorporating elements of painting, architecture and installation, Sze investigates the value we place on objects and examines how objects ascribe meaning to the places and times we inhabit. She employs a myriad of everyday materials in her work, ranging from found objects and photographs to handmade sculptures and living plants, creating encyclopedic and accumulative landscapes that penetrate walls and stretch across museums. Sze was a 2003 MacArthur Fellow and a 2005 Radcliffe Institute Fellow. In 2012, she won the International Association of Art Critics Award for Best Project in a Public Space for Still Life with Landscape (Model for a Habitat), displayed on New York City’s High Line. Sze was the United States’ representative for the Venice Biennale in 2013. A Massachusetts native, Sze double-majored in architecture and painting at Yale University and graduated summa cum laude in 1991. She received a master of fine arts degree from New York City’s School of Visual Arts. Over the past 15 years, she has lectured at both of her alma maters and at Columbia University School of the Arts, where she is currently a professor.
Jide Zeitlin ’85 is a trustee emeritus of Amherst College. Over nearly two decades, Zeitlin served on every board committee, chaired the Budget and Finance Committee and was a member of the college’s Advisory Budget Committee, formed in 2009 in response to the economic downturn. Along with fellow alumni, he worked to raise $425 million for Amherst’s recent Lives of Consequence campaign. Zeitlin was chairman of the board from 2005 until 2013 and played a leading role on two presidential search committees. Since 2006, Zeitlin has been a private investor and is currently focused on energy and life science investments in Israel, the United States and several countries in Africa. He is lead director of Coach, Inc., the designer and marketer of premium handbags and accessories. Prior to 2006, Zeitlin was a partner at Goldman Sachs. He holds an MBA from Harvard in addition to his bachelor’s degrees in economics and English from Amherst. He has served on a number of nonprofit boards, including those of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Harvard Business School, Playwrights Horizons and Teach For America.
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 38 fields of study. Sixty percent of Amherst students receive need-based financial aid.