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Duke Announces Honorary Degree Recipients

Luminaries from science, education, arts will be recognized at May 10 commencement ceremony

Duke University will award six honorary degrees at its commencement exercises on Sunday, May 10, Duke President Richard H. Brodhead announced Monday.

The recipients are National Science Foundation director France Córdova; soprano Renee Fleming; scientist Rakesh Jain; plant ecologist Harold Mooney; and jazz pianist McCoy Tyner. David Levin and Michael Feinberg, founders of the KIPP schools, will share an award.

Commencement, featuring an address by global health leader and Duke alumnus Dr. Paul Farmer, begins at 9 a.m. at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and is open to the public. Farmer is not eligible to receive an honorary degree because he is a member of the Duke University Board of Trustees.  

"Duke University is proud to honor these individuals, who have made singular contributions across different fields of accomplishment," Brodhead said.  "Graduates with their lives and careers before them will be inspired by the achievements and stories of these honorands."  

Córdova, an astrophysicist, was confirmed and sworn-in as the director of the National Science Foundation in March 2014. She began her career at Los Alamos National Laboratory and went on to become the first female chief scientist at NASA. After returning to the academic world, Córdova served as chancellor of the University of California at Riverside from 2002-2007 and as president of Purdue University from 2007-2012. 

Fleming, a National Medal of Arts winner who performs in opera houses and concert halls worldwide, is known for bringing new audiences to classical music and opera. In 2014 she became the first classical artist to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. Fleming has sung at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, President Obama's inaugural celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, at Buckingham Palace for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and last autumn at the Brandenburg Gate for the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

A pioneer in bioengineering and tumor biology, Jain is best known for proposing and validating the groundbreaking concept that "normalizing" the tumor micro-environment can improve treatment outcomes. Jain is one of less than two dozen individuals elected to all three U.S. National Academies: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Mooney, who received his Ph.D. from Duke in 1960, has been a leader in assessing the impact of climate change and ecosystem degradation from the tropics to the Arctic. Since 1968, he has taught at Stanford University, where he is the Paul S. Achilles Professor of Environmental Biology, Emeritus and a Senior Fellow Emeritus with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. He chaired the U.S. Global Change Committee and co-chaired the science panel of the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

Tyner is one of the most influential jazz pianists of the 20th century. He is known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet and for his long solo career. An inventive composer, Tyner has been a major influence on the adoption of quartal and quintal harmonies, modes and pentatonic scales in jazz music. Tyner has received many honors and awards, including the Presidential Merit Award from the Grammy Foundation and a Jazz Master award from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

In 1994, Levin and Feinberg completed their two-year Teach for America commitments and decided to launch their own innovation in public education. They founded the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, for fifth-graders in inner-city Houston. Today, KIPP has grown into a national network of 162 public schools in 20 states and Washington, D.C. serving 59,000 children.  KIPP provides its students -- the vast majority of whom are African-American or Latino and from low-income families -- with a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum. KIPP’s college completion rate is above the national average for all students and four times the rate for students from low-income families.

Commencement was moved to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park because renovations are under way at Wallace Wade Stadium. More details on commencement are available at