About the speakers | 2002

Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, recognized internationally as one of the world’s most profound thinkers and as a scientist who bridges the literacy gap for general audiences, will receive an honorary doctor of science degree and speak at the 136th commencement at Bates College. In his last commencement before retiring, Donald W. Harward, president of Bates College, will confer bachelor’s degrees on approximately 420 seniors at 10 a.m. Monday, May 27, in an outdoor ceremony on the historic quad in front of Coram Library. In the event of rain, graduation exercises will be held in the nearby Margaret Hopkins Merrill Gymnasium. Joining Weinberg as honorary degree recipients will be internationally acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns; former Surgeon General of the United States M. Joycelyn Elders; and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein.

Winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, University of Texas theoretical physicist Weinberg has researched a broad range of topics in quantum field theory, elementary particle physics, and cosmology. His writing on physics for the general reader has been honored with the Andrew Gemant Award of the American Institute of Physics. In 1999, Weinberg received Rockefeller University’s Lewis Thomas Prize, awarded to the researcher who best embodies “the scientist as poet.” Weinberg is the author of the best-selling books “The First Three Minutes” (1977), about the very early universe, and “Dreams of a Final Theory” (1993), about the quest for a unified theory of physics. His other books include “Gravitation and Cosmology: Principles and Applications of the General Theory of Relativity” (1972); “Discovery of Subatomic Particles” (1983); and “Science and Its Cultural Adversaries” (2002). Weinberg has written more than 200 scientific articles, one of which is the most cited paper on particle physics of the past 50 years. He also writes for The New York Review of Books and other periodicals. Weinberg has been honored with numerous prizes and awards, including the 1991 National Medal of Science. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the International Astronomical Union and the American Philosophical Society. Weinberg was educated at Cornell, Copenhagen and Princeton, and has taught at Columbia, Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. At the University of Texas at Austin since 1982, he holds the Josey Regental Chair of Science.

Best known for his epic television documentaries, including “The Civil War,” “Jazz” and “Baseball,” Ken Burns has been making internationally acclaimed documentary films for more than 25 years. Burns was the director, producer, co-writer, chief cinematographer, music director and executive producer of the landmark 1990 series “The Civil War.” That nine-part documentary was the highest-rated series in the history of American public television and attracted an audience of 40 million. The New York Times said Ken Burns “takes his place as the most accomplished documentary filmmaker of his generation,” while Tom Shales of The Washington Post said, “This is not just good television, nor even just great television. This is heroic television.” The columnist George Will said, “If better use has ever been made of television, I have not seen it and do not expect to see better until Ken Burns turns his prodigious talents to his next project.” In 2001, Burns produced and directed “Jazz,” a 10-part documentary that follows this most American of art forms from its origins in blues and ragtime through swing, bebop and fusion. Other documentaries by Burns include “Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony” (1999); “Frank Lloyd Wright” (1998); “Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery” (1997); “Thomas Jefferson” (1997); “The West” (1996); and “Baseball” (1996). Burns has been awarded the top honors in his field, including the Emmy, Peabody and Television Critics awards, and he has received “Best of the Year” citations in Time, People and TV Guide magazines. Burns was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1953 and grew up in Newark, Delaware and Ann Arbor, Mich. He graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., in 1975. Burns lives in Walpole, N.H.

A pediatric endocrinologist and the first African American to hold the position of Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders is an outspoken advocate for the young, the poor and the powerless on such issues as abortion, AIDS and sex education. Elders began her college career at the age of 15 when she was awarded a scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark. The eldest of eight daughters, she never saw a physician before her first year of college. Elders graduated at age 18 and entered the U.S. Army as an officer, where she received training as a physical therapist. She attended the University of Arkansas Medical School on the GI Bill and interned at the University of Minnesota Hospital. Elders completed a pediatric residency and an endocrinology fellowship at UAMS and received board certification as a pediatric endocrinologist. She also earned an M.S. degree in biochemistry. Elders joined the UAMS faculty as a professor of pediatrics in 1978, and in 1987 was appointed director of the Arkansas Department of Health, where she championed early childhood immunizations and supported school-based clinics to cope with teenage pregnancy. Confirmed as Surgeon General of the Public Health Service in 1993, she argued for universal health coverage, was a spokesperson for President Clinton’s health reform effort and argued for comprehensive health education, especially sex education in schools. Elders resigned from her federal post in 1995 and resumed her professional career at UAMS. She retired in 1998. Her studies of growth in children and the treatment of hormone-related illnesses have been published in numerous medical research journals. Elders continues to lecture about and lobby for health care reform, openness in sex education and rehabilitation rather than incarceration in the war against drugs.

Seen by many as the voice of a generation, Wendy Wasserstein has used her art to chronicle the staggering social changes that have transformed modern life. From her days at Yale Drama School to her debut as a Broadway playwright, she has successfully balanced the funny, the serious and the inspirational. The first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize as the author of an original play, Wasserstein won the 1989 Pulitzer, as well as a Tony Award for best play, for “The Heidi Chronicles.” Other plays by Wasserstein include “Isn’t It Romantic” and “Uncommon Women and Others,” one of the most frequently performed plays on college campuses. She received a Tony nomination for her major Broadway hit, “The Sisters Rosensweig.” Her most recent Broadway play, “An American Daughter,” received several Tony nominations. The story of a prominent female professor awaiting confirmation as Surgeon General who is shattered by media investigations of her family, the production demonstrates Wasserstein’s ability to examine contemporary life with an unflinching eye. Her recently completed play about money and class, “Old Money,” will be produced this fall at Lincoln Center. Wasserstein’s talents extend beyond the stage. The author of the children’s book “Pamela’s First Musical,” about a young girl’s first theater experience, and “Bachelor Girls,” a collection of her New York Woman essays, she also wrote the screenplay for “The Object of My Affection,” starring Jennifer Aniston. Stretching further, Wasserstein has assumed the role of a librettist. For New York City Opera, she wrote “The Festival of Regrets,” part of the Central Park trilogy that included works by A.R. Gurney and Terrence McNally. She is currently working on a new libretto for “The Merry Widow” for the San Francisco Opera. A passionate advocate for the arts, Wasserstein serves on the board of the Council of the Dramatists Guild. She has taught at New York, Princeton and Columbia universities.