Former Harvard President Bacow, Maria Ressa to Receive Honorary Degrees at Commencement


Harvard’s former president, Lawrence S. Bacow, is among six individuals receiving honorary Harvard degrees at the University’s 373rd Commencement ceremonies Thursday morning.

Bacow — who already holds three degrees from Harvard — stepped down from the presidency in June 2023 after serving a five-year term largely defined by the Covid-19 pandemic, the University’s decision to divest from fossil fuel companies, and the launch of the Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery Initiative.

This is not the first time the University has honored Bacow following his tenure as president. Last year, he was surprised with a Harvard Medal for “extraordinary service” to the University during the second annual Harvard Alumni Day.

He was succeeded by former Harvard President Claudine Gay, who resigned in January — making her the shortest-serving president in the school’s history.


Bacow will receive an honorary doctorate alongside Gustavo A. Dudamel Ramírez; Sylvester James Gates Jr., a physics professor at the University of Maryland; Joy Harjo-Sapulpa, a chancellor of the American Academy of Poets and former U.S. Poet Laureate; Jeannie Chin Hansen, former CEO of the American Geriatrics Society; and Maria A. Ressa, the Nobel-prize winning journalist who will address the Class of 2024 as the principal speaker later today.

Ressa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 while serving as a Harvard Kennedy School Fellow for her “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression,” according to the Nobel Committee.

She co-founded Rappler, a Filipino news website which produced investigative journalism during Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency in the Philippines, and became a leading advocate for the freedom of the press. She was named as one of the most influential women of the century by Time Magazine for her journalistic work and advocacy.

Dudamel, an internationally-acclaimed Venezuelan conductor and violinist who currently leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra, is slated to become the next conductor of the New York Philharmonic in 2026. He was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2010 and inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2023.

Dudamel previously came to Harvard’s campus in 2016, where he led an open rehearsal of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra.

Gates, who currently holds the Clark Leadership Chair in Science at the University of Maryland, was awarded the National Medal of Science by former President Barack Obama in 2013. He is a former president of the American Physical Society and the National Society of Black Physicists.

Harjo-Sapulpa was the national Poet Laureate between 2019 and 2022, becoming the first Native American person named to the role. A member of the Muscogee Nation, she also works as a playwright and musician.

Hansen previously served as president of the AARP during the development of the Affordable Care Act, the first Asian American to hold the position. She began her career as a nurse for older adults in rural Idaho.

Correction: May 26, 2024

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Sylvester James Gates Jr. currently serves as the director of the Brown Theoretical Physics Center. In fact, Gates serves as the Clark Leadership Chair in Science at the University of Maryland.