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Duke Announces Honorary Degree Recipients

Degrees awarded at commencement exercises on May 15

Honorary Degrees, 2016

William Foege, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, Charlie Rose, Natasha Trethewey and Srinivasa Varadhan. Foege photo by Josh Meister

Duke University will award five honorary degrees at its commencement exercises on Sunday, May 15, Duke President Richard H. Brodhead announced Thursday.

The recipients are global health pioneer William Foege; Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; journalist and TV talk show host Charlie Rose; former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey; and mathematician Srinivasa Varadhan.

Commencement, featuring an address by Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski, begins at 9 a.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium and is open to the public.

"As we celebrate the achievements of our graduates, Duke also has a tradition of conferring a small number of honorary degrees at commencement," Brodhead said. "These degrees honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions in diverse fields. We lift them up as inspiring examples of how today’s graduates might use their talent and education to make their own contributions to the world.”

While working as an epidemiologist in eastern Nigeria during the 1970s, Foege devised the vaccination strategy that led to a successful campaign to eradicate smallpox. He served as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1977 to 1983, and helped to create the Task Force for Child Survival, an international consortium that successfully accelerated childhood immunization rates globally from 20 percent to 80 percent in five years.

He was also director of the Carter Center and is the first senior medical adviser to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Lavizzo-Mourey is the first woman and first African-American to be president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has assets of $10 billion. Its $450 million in grants last year (2015) focused on fighting childhood obesity, creating healthier communities, supporting nurses and promoting health equity.

A specialist in geriatrics, Lavizzo-Mourey is a former professor of medicine and health care systems at the University of Pennsylvania and past director of its Institute on Aging. She’s also a member of the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the President’s Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

Rose is anchor and executive editor of “Charlie Rose,” the nightly one-hour program that engages in one-on-one, in-depth conversations and round-table discussions, and the newly launched “Charlie Rose: The Week.” Rose also co-anchors “CBS This Morning” and is a correspondent for “60 Minutes.”

He won an Emmy Award and Peabody Prize for his 2013 interview with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Other honors include France’s Legion d'honneur and being named among the world’s 100 most influential people by TIME magazine. He received the 2015 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism and the 2014 Vincent Scully Prize.

Rose, a native of Henderson, North Carolina, earned both a bachelor’s degree in history and a law degree from Duke.

Trethewey, a professor of English and creative writing at Emory University, has published four books of poetry, including “Native Guard” (2006), which won the Pulitzer Prize, and a book of creative non-fiction, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast” (2010). 

Trethewey's many honors and awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. From 2005-06, she taught documentary poetry at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. Beginning in 2012, she served two terms as Poet Laureate of the United States. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Varadhan is a professor of mathematics and Frank J. Gould Professor of Science at the Cour­ant In­sti­tute at New York University, where he arrived from India in 1963 as a postdoctoral fellow.

In 2007, Varadhan re­ceived the Abel Prize in Math­em­at­ics from the Nor­wegi­an Academy of Sci­ence and Let­ters for his con­tri­bu­tins to prob­ab­il­ity the­ory and for cre­at­ing a uni­fied the­ory of large de­vi­ations. In 2010, President Obama awarded him the National Medal of Science.

Varadhan is a mem­ber of the Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ences, the Amer­ic­an Academy of Arts and Sci­ences, the Roy­al So­ci­ety of Lon­don and the Third World Academy of Sci­ences. His son, Ashok Varadhan, a 1994 graduate of Duke, is on the board of directors of DUMAC, which manages the university's endowment and other investment assets.   

For more information about the 2016 commencement, visit