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To the Highest Degree

At Swarthmore’s 147th Commencement on May 26, President Valerie Smith awarded honorary degrees to visual artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby ’04, biochemist Jon Lorsch ’90, and justice advocate Bryan A. Stevenson; 395 undergraduates also received degrees at the ceremony.

Doctor of arts recipient Akunyili Crosby is best known for her art that reflects the cultural terrain between her adopted home in America and her native home in Nigeria. Her work—which combines collage, drawing, painting, printmaking, and photo transfers—invites a global dialogue about social and political issues, and can be found in major museums including Yale University Art Gallery, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where she earned a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate. For her accomplishments, Akunyili Crosby was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2017.

Lorsch, recipient of the doctor of sciences, uses his expertise in biochemistry to make a difference in medical research for all. Since 2013, he has been director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, where he oversees the multibillion-dollar budget that supports basic research, increases the understanding of biological processes, and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. He is also known for his own research, which focuses on RNA and initiation of translation. Lorsch has authored more than 70 peer-reviewed research articles, book chapters, and other papers; edited six volumes of Methods in Enzymology; and received two U.S. patents.

Stevenson, who received the doctor of laws, is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, where he has won national acclaim for his work challenging bias against the poor and people of color in the criminal justice system. In 2012, he argued before the Supreme Court and won a landmark ruling banning mandatory life without parole sentences for minors. Last year in Montgomery, Ala., Stevenson and EJI opened the widely praised Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and National Memorial for Peace and Justice. His book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption received the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.

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+ NOMINATE a 2020 honorary degree recipient: Email Jennifer Piddington at