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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., March 13, 2019—Mary-Claire King, an award-winning geneticist at the University of Washington who first discovered the breast and ovarian cancer gene, will be the principal speaker at Williams College’s 230th Commencement Exercise on Sunday, June 2. The day before, Ophelia Dahl, British-American social justice and health care advocate, will be the Baccalaureate speaker. Both will receive honorary degrees at Commencement, as will president of Berklee College of Music Roger H. Brown; founder and co-chairman of Charlesbank Capital Partners and chair of the Williams Board of Trustees Michael Eisenson ’77; and Grammy Award-winning singer, guitarist, and songwriter Kevin Roosevelt Moore, widely known as Keb’ Mo’.
2019 Honorary Degree Recipients
Mary-Claire King has spent the past four decades working to better understand human genetics and its impact on human health. As the American Cancer Society Research Professor in the Departments of Medicine and Genome Sciences at the University of Washington, she is renowned for the discovery of the BRCA1 gene, enabling many women with inherited predisposition to breast and ovarian cancer to learn of their vulnerability and prevent the disease. Mary-Claire graduated from Carleton College with a degree in mathematics and earned her Ph.D. in genetics at the University of California, Berkeley, where with her mentor Allan Wilson, she revolutionized evolutionary biology by demonstrating that chimpanzees and humans share 99 percent of their gene sequences. She also demonstrated the power of genetics to advance social justice, when she used DNA evidence, first to help Argentinian families find and identify their grandchildren who had been kidnapped during the country’s military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s, and subsequently to identify victims of human rights abuses on five continents. Mary-Claire King has received many awards for her work, including the Lasker Foundation Special Achievement Award for Medical Research and the United States National Medal of Science.
British-American social justice and health care advocate Ophelia Dahl is helping transform access to healthcare through her work at the Boston-based nonprofit health care organization Partners In Health (PIH), which she co-founded and led as president and executive director from 2001 to 2015. PIH works in close partnership with local and national governments and the world’s leading medical and academic institutions to bring the benefits of modern medical science to impoverished communities. Ophelia’s work has been featured in books and major articles, as well as in the 2017 documentary film, Bending the Arc. The daughter of author Roald Dahl and actress Patricia Neal, she also helps to lead her late father’s literary estate and serves as trustee of the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire, England. In 2011, Ophelia Dahl was named by The Boston Globe as one of their three Bostonians of the Year, in part for her and PIH’s response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Roger H. Brown is president of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Under his leadership, Berklee has transformed its offerings to embrace a global and inclusive vision of human creativity—creating the world’s largest online music education system, opening a campus in Valencia, Spain, facilitating a merger with Boston Conservatory, increasing scholarship and financial aid by over 500 percent, and tripling the endowment. Before joining Berklee, Roger and his wife, Linda Mason, helped to alleviate a humanitarian crisis on the Thai-Cambodian border, administering the Land Bridge food distribution for Cambodian refugees. Next, they served as co-directors of a Save the Children Federation initiative for famine relief in Sudan. The program served more than 400,000 people and is estimated to have saved more than 20,000 lives. Roger and Linda subsequently co-founded Bright Horizons Family Solutions, the world’s largest provider of worksite childcare, and Horizons for Homeless Children. A talented drummer and songwriter, Roger has performed actively throughout his career. He has been recognized for his humanitarian initiatives as well as his educational and entrepreneurial achievements, receiving the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Ron Brown Award for Corporate Leadership, and being named, along with his wife, as a Visionary Social Entrepreneur by the Social Venture Network’s Hall of Fame.
Michael Eisenson ’77 has helped transform Williams through his visionary and disciplined board leadership and service, among his many contributions to the college. He is the founder and co-chairman of Charlesbank Capital Partners, a Boston-based private equity firm. Born in the Bronx and raised in Westchester County, New York, Michael came to Williams as a first-generation college student and later earned both an M.B.A. and a J.D. from Yale. He started his career at the Boston Consulting Group and went on to become president of Harvard Private Capital Group. Chair of the Williams Board of Trustees since 2014, Michael chaired the search that led to the appointment of Maud S. Mandel as the college’s 18th president and, among other responsibilities, he led the Board’s articulation of the college’s sustainability goals and the Board’s involvement in the work to enhance the vitality of Spring Street. He also led the creation of the college’s Investment Office in 2006. Beyond Williams, Michael serves on numerous nonprofit boards, reflecting his interests in areas as wide-ranging as the arts, civic leadership, and cancer research and treatment, and is a founder of Horizons for Homeless Children, a program providing preschool and related services to homeless children and their families throughout Massachusetts.
Kevin Roosevelt Moore, professionally known as Keb’ Mo’, is a leading figure in the latest wave of the blues renaissance. A Nashville-based singer, guitarist, and songwriter, and a four-time Grammy Award winner, his musical style incorporates influences from many eras and genres, including folk, rock, jazz, pop, and country. Originally from Compton, Calif., Keb’ Mo’ began his recording career with Jefferson Airplane violinist Papa John Creach, appearing on four of his albums starting in the early 1970s. He went on to play with a variety of bands throughout the 1970s and 1980s. His recording debut as a bandleader, Rainmaker, was released on Chocolate City Records in 1980. In the early 1990s Keb’ Mo’ performed in productions of Spunk, a play based on an adaptation of three stories by Zora Neale Hurston, and released his self-titled album, which features two covers of songs by blues musician Robert Johnson, one of his greatest influences. He won his first Grammy Award for his 1996 album, Just Like You, which featured guest appearances from Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. In addition to performing with some of music’s top artists, Keb’ Mo’ has made numerous television and film appearances.
Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.