Influential Scholar, Photographer, Vocalist, and Congressman Among Alumni Named This Year's Honorary Degree Recipients
President Rebecca Chopp will award honorary degrees to scholar and writer Thomas Laqueur '67, documentary photographer and professor Barbara "Bobbie" Norfleet '47, vocalist and composer Vaneese Thomas '74, and congressman Chris Van Hollen '83 at the 142nd commencement on June 1, 2014. In addition, approximately 350 undergraduates will receive degrees at the ceremony in Scott Amphitheater.
Thomas Laqueur '67
Thomas Laqueur '67 is a renowned scholar and writer whose work has significantly influenced the fields of history and gender studies.
His research interests range from the social history of modern Britain and the history of human rights to the cultural history of the body and the history of death. His influential books, including Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation and Making Sex: Body and Gender From the Greeks to Freud have been translated into numerous languages, and he has written articles and reviews for dozens of publications, including The New Republic, The London Review of Books, and The Los Angeles Times. He is perhaps best known for writing about the "one-sex model," in which he demonstrated that prior to the 18th century it was commonly believed that women had the same fundamental reproductive structure as men, and that women and men represented two different forms of one sex. It was only with the rise of the modern sciences that men and women came to be viewed as biologically different.
Since 1973, Laqueur has been a member of the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is currently the Helen Fawcett Professor of History. He served as the Director of the Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities at UCB from 1992 to 1995 and as Acting Director in 2003-2004. In 2007, he received the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's Distinguished Achievement Award. He is also a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Science.
Laqueur received a B.A. with honors in history from the College. He went on to receive a M.A. (1969) and Ph.D (1973) in history from Princeton University while also spending time at Nuffield College, Oxford.
Barbara "Bobbie" Norfleet '47
Barbara "Bobbie" Norfleet '47 is a noted documentary photographer, author, curator, professor, and social scientist who used photography to examine America culture like few others.
While already a lecturer at Harvard's Social Sciences Department, Norfleet's fascinating dual career as a scholar and a photographic curator began after she took a photography class at the school's Carpenter Center for Visual Arts in the mid-1960s. Norfleet's training in sociology led her to see the value in a type of photography that almost no one had paid serious attention to before -- the candid work of professional photographers hired to document everyday events like weddings, beauty pageants, society balls, and local business openings. In 1969, she began teaching what became an extremely popular studio course called "Photography as Social Description" and later a lecture course "Looking at America: The Interplay of American Photographic and Social History." In 1972, she became curator of Photography at the Carpenter Center.
Over the next several years, Norfleet traveled the country to cull forgotten negatives from the attics and basements of more than 25 professional studios active mostly from the 1930s through the 1960s. Norfleet used those abandoned photos along with her own photographs to produce several works that document American culture and to found an archive at the Harvard University on the photographic social history of the U.S. She is the author of numerous books and her work has been exhibited widely. Her pieces can be seen in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Norfleet received a B.A. with high honors in economics from the College and received an M.A. and Ph.D in psychology from Harvard. Her son, Timothy Cohn, is a member of the class of 1979.
Vaneese Thomas '74
A gifted vocalist, pianist, and composer, Vaneese Thomas '74 was instrumental in the creation of both the Swarthmore Gospel Choir and the Swarthmore Alumni Gospel Choir. She helped found the Gospel Choir as an undergraduate in 1971. After graduating from the College with a B.A. in French, Thomas continued to return to campus on a weekly basis to play and teach music to choir members, while also forming the Alumni Gospel Choir in 1986. For more than 25 years, she has led the Alumni Gospel Choir in being ambassadors for the College with performances around the country and abroad. Next year, the Alumni Choir is planning a European tour, with performances in Budapest, Vienna, and Prague.
An accomplished professional singer, Thomas' style encompasses the rich heritage of a musical family and the soul and R&B traditions of her native Memphis, Tennessee. Though rich in these influences, Thomas' music is uniquely her own and crosses generations and cultural divides. A much sought-after solo performer, Thomas has also been a vocalist for other artists. She has produced many recordings, created vocal arrangements, and written songs for various artists, including Patti Austin, Aretha Franklin, Freddie Jackson, Bob James, Melba Moore, and Diana Ross.
She has sung with the Baltimore and Colorado Symphonies in "Too Hot to Handel" concerts, and with diverse performers such as Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Sting, Celine Dion, Pavarotti & Friends and Luther Vandross. Thomas has also appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and NBC's Today Show.
In addition to her numerous concert performances and recordings, Thomas has worked in the film and television industries. She was the voice of "Grace The Bass" on the PBS series, Shining Time Station, and "Clio the Muse, Goddess of History" in Disney's feature film, Hercules. She has also sung on numerous film soundtracks, including Anastasia, Mighty Aphrodite, and The First Wives Club.
Chris Van Hollen '83
Congressman Chris Van Hollen '83 was elected to Congress in 2002 and quickly earned a reputation as an active, engaged, and effective member of the House of Representatives. He is working to advance policies that support job creation and put America on a path to broadly-shared prosperity and fiscal sustainability. Throughout his career, he has been a champion of education, clean energy, the environment, universal health care, civil rights, and small business.
In addition to representing the Eighth District of Maryland and serving in House leadership, Congressman Van Hollen was re-elected by his colleagues in 2012 to serve a second term as the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. In this position, he serves as a key point person on budget and economic legislation in the House. The Washington Post described Congressman Van Hollen as a "bona fide budget expert" and Roll Call has noted that "Van Hollen gets near-universal respect from his colleagues for his intellectual firepower and combination of policy and political chops."
Congressman Van Hollen has received numerous national, state, and local awards, including the "Courageous Leadership Award" from The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee. He was recognized by Washingtonian Magazine as the "Best Metro Area Member of Congress" and as the "Best Local Elected Official" by Bethesda Magazine.
Van Hollen graduated with B.A. in philosophy from the College, and also received a M.P.P. from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a J.D. from Georgetown's School of Law. Raised with Quaker values in South Asia by American parents working in the U.S. Foreign Service, Van Hollen has a history of activism, which was apparent as a student at Swarthmore. His activist drive continues today and is put into practice by the values he strives to live by: "to respect others as equals, always do your best, and try to make the world a better place."