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Columbia Spectator Staff

After the class-day speeches of Eric Holder, CC '73, Law '76, Hillary Clinton, and James Albaugh, SEAS M.S. '74, University commencement will celebrate honorary degree and Medal of Excellence recipients. According to a recent University announcement, novelist Kieran Desai will be present at commencement on May 20 to receive the medal. Joining him will be honorary doctorate recipients Kwame Anthony Appiah, P.N. Bhagwati, Caroline Bynum, Ainslie Embree, Paul Farmer, Helen Gayle, H.F. 'Gerry' Lenfest, and Joseph Sax. Joy Resmovits can be reached at Online only: See below for full text of Columbia's announcement, courtesy of the office of Public Affairs. Columbia University will confer eight honorary degrees and its Medal for Excellence at commencement ceremonies on Wednesday, May 20. Recipients include prominent humanitarians, scholars, writers and philanthropists. The 2009 recipients are: Kwame Anthony Appiah, Doctor of Letters A scholar of semantics, African studies and human identity, Appiah is the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton. His seminal writings on race, gender, class, religion and nationality have prompted admirers to refer to him as "our post-modern Socrates." His 1992 book, In My Father's House, which explores Africa's struggle for self-definition in a Western-dominated world, has earned critical acclaim. Appiah is the chair of the executive board of the American Philosophical Association and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. P.N. Bhagwati, Doctor of Law A former chief justice of the Supreme Court of India, Bhagwati is a pioneer in the field of public interest litigation. Under his leadership, the court developed comprehensive human rights jurisprudence reforms. Bhagwati was a member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for 14 years and served on the International Labor Organization's Committee of Experts for 27 years. He has carried out several missions for the U.N. Center for Human Rights and his expertise has benefited numerous countries in Asia and Africa. Caroline Bynum, Doctor of Letters A professor of European medieval history at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, Bynum has produced groundbreaking studies on gender, identity, ritual and symbolism within medieval Europe. Her book, Holy Feast and Holy Fast, was instrumental in introducing the concept of gender into medieval studies. Bynum has served as president of both the American Historical Association and the Medieval Academy of America. She has served as the Jefferson Lecturer, the highest honor given by the federal government to a humanities scholar, and was awarded the Centennial Medal of the Harvard Graduate Society. Kiran Desai, Medal for Excellence A novelist, Desai is known for prose that explores the emotional complexities and struggles of the modern immigrant experience. Her 1998 novel, Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, written when she was a student at Columbia, earned her the Betty Trask Award, given for the best first novel written by a citizen of the Commonwealth of Nations under the age of 35. Her second novel, The Inheritance of Loss, won the 2006 Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award. (The Medal for Excellence is awarded annually to an outstanding Columbia graduate under the age of 45.) Ainslie Embree, Doctor of Letters Embree is a scholar of Indian and Asian studies and is a professor emeritus of history at Columbia. As a member of the Kashmir Study Group and the Council on Foreign Relations, he made significant contributions to brokering peace between India and Pakistan. He also served as president of the American Institute of Indian Studies and was editor-in-chief of the four-volume Encyclopedia of Asian History. At Columbia, he helped develop a broad-based study program on Asia and integrated Indian and Asian studies into the Columbia College Core Curriculum. His 1958 book, Sources of Indian Tradition, is widely considered the core text of the intellectual history of South Asian civilizations. Paul Farmer, Doctor of Science A medical anthropologist, physician and human-rights advocate, Farmer is the Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Social Medicine in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is the founding director of Partners in Health, an international non-profit research and advocacy organization that provides health care services to those who are sick and living in poverty. Farmer has pioneered community-based treatment strategies for AIDS and tuberculosis, which has led to several policy reforms. He served for 10 years as medical director of a charity hospital, L'Hôpital Bon Sauveur, in rural Haiti and is currently conducting medical work in Haiti, Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Lesotho and Malawi. He is the associate chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Helene Gayle, Doctor of Law As president of CARE USA, Gayle directs the efforts of one of the world's premier humanitarian organizations, credited with improving the lives of 65 million individuals living in poor communities across the globe. Gayle served 20 years with the Centers of Disease Control, focusing primarily on combating HIV/AIDS, and served as director of the HIV, TB and Reproductive Health Program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She was named by Newsweek among the top 10 "Women in Leadership" in 2008 and by The Wall Street Journal among "50 Women to Watch" in 2006. H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, Doctor of Law As a prominent businessman, philanthropist and Columbia trustee, Lenfest is a valued supporter of the university. An alumnus of Columbia Law School, he founded Lenfest Communications Inc. and built a cable television system that grew from 7,600 subscribers to more than 1.3 million customers. Since selling that company in 2000, he devoted himself to helping others and became one of America's most generous supporters of education and the arts. He serves as chairman of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the James Madison Council of the Library of Congress, the Curtis Institute of Music and the American Revolution Center. He has earned numerous awards, including the governor of Pennsylvania's Patron of the Year Award in 2002. Joseph Sax, Doctor of Law One of the intellectual founders of the environmental movement in the United States, Sax is widely considered the country's leading scholar on water law. He is the James H. House and Hiram H. Hurd Professor of Environmental Regulation Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. His book, Mountains Without Handrails, has been called the leading textual authority on the purposes and functions of the country's national parks. Sax served in the Clinton administration's Department of the Interior as counselor to the secretary and deputy assistant secretary for policy. He currently serves as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences." APPENDED: An earlier version of this article quoted a statement from the University which lauded Embree for being a "founding father from modern India." This statement was erroneous, and has been removed from the article. Spectator regrets the error.

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