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Nine honorary degrees awarded

Sarah Mervosh | Friday, May 14, 2010

Notre Dame will award eight honorary degrees at this year’s Commencement in addition to the honorary degree it will give commencement speaker Brian Williams, the University announced March 30.

Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.
The additional recipients come from a variety of backgrounds, including in education, engineering, law, philanthropy and the Church.

Steven Brickner, a leader in antibacterial drug development, will be awarded a doctor of science degree. Brickner’s research helped lead to the discovery of Zyvox, the first oral drug to treat penicillin-resistant strains of strep and staph infections. More than two million people have been treated with Zyvox since its creation in 2000.

Scott Cowen will receive a doctor of laws degree. As president of Tulane University, Cowen has led Tulane to major growth in donations and student applications. He also created a plan to rebuild the university’s facilities after Hurricane Katrina flooded 70 percent of its uptown campus and dispersed all of its students in 2005.

Archbishop Demetrios Trakatellis will also be awarded a doctor of laws degree. He was appointed primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America and he previously taught Biblical studies at the Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, Mass. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he presided at many memorial services and funerals for the victims.

The University will award Fr. Reginald Foster a doctor of laws degree. Nicknamed “the Pope’s Latinist,” Foster is considered an expert on the Latin language and has worked in the “Latin Letters” section of the Vatican for many years translating Church documents into Latin. In 2006, Foster founded a free Latin academy for English speakers wishing to learn the language or improve their Latin skills.

MaryAnn Mathile, a top philanthropist, will receive a doctor of laws degree. She is the chief executive officer, board chair and treasurer of the Mathile Family Foundation. Mathile and her husband, Clayton, established their foundation to support children and families in the Dayton, Ohio area. Among the foundation’s largest gifts was an academic building at Saint Mary’s College.

Marc Maurer, a 1974 Notre Dame graduate, will receive a doctor of laws degree. Maurer, who was blinded by an overexposure to oxygen after birth, now serves as president of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). Under his leadership, NFB has expanded its headquarters and accelerated development of innovative education, technology, products and services to facilitate the independence of blind people.

Ted McCourtney, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1960, will receive a doctor of engineering degree. McCourtney was the lead partner of Venrock for 30 years. Venrock was an early investor in Apple Computer and the chip-maker Intel. McCourtney has also served on the University’s Board of Trustees and he remains an Emeritus Trustee.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor will receive a doctor of laws degree. A native of England, Murphy-O’Connor served as rector of the Venerable English College in Rome, was archbishop of Westminster and president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 2001. His ministry is well known for his ecumenical work, the protection of human life and the rights of immigrants. 

In addition to these honorary degrees, the University will award the Laetare Medal, its highest honor, to Dana Gioia, poet and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) at the Commencement ceremony.

Last year, much controversy surrounded the University’s decision to award President Barack Obama with an honorary doctor of laws degree. Obama was the ninth U.S. president to be awarded with an honorary degree, a March 20, 2009, press release said.

This article originally ran in the March 31 edition of The Observer.