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Honorary degrees set for array of accomplished alumni

By Mark Anskis

Scholar and writer Thomas Laqueur ’67; documentary photographer Barbara “Bobbie” Norfleet ’47, P’79; vocalist and composer Vaneese Thomas ’74; and U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen ’83, D-Md., will receive honorary degrees at Swarthmore’s 142nd Commencement on June 1.

Laqueur is the Helen Fawcett Professor of History at the University of California–Berkeley. 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. Laqueur has significantly influenced the fields of history and gender studies with books such as Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation and Making Sex: Body and Gender From the Greeks to Freud. In 2007, he received the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award. He is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science.

Norfleet has used her training in sociology to examine the candid work of professional photographers who document weddings, beauty pageants, society balls, and local business openings. She 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 these abandoned photos, along with her own, to document American culture and to found an archive at Harvard University on the photographic social history of the United States. Her pieces can be seen in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Thomas helped found the Swarthmore Gospel Choir as an undergraduate in 1971, then returned to campus to play and teach music to choir members. She formed the Alumni Gospel Choir in 1986. A much sought-after solo performer, Thomas has produced recordings, created vocal arrangements, and written songs for Patti Austin, Aretha Franklin, Freddie Jackson, Bob James, Melba Moore, Diana Ross, and other artists. She has sung with Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Sting, Celine Dion, Pavarotti & Friends, Luther Vandross, and other performers. She has also appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and NBC’s Today Show.

Throughout his congressional career, which began in 2002, Van Hollen has been a champion of education, clean energy, the environment, universal health care, civil rights, and small businesses. Van Hollen was re-elected by his colleagues in 2012 to serve a second term as the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee—a point person on budget and economic legislation in the House. Van Hollen has received many national, state, and local awards, including the Courageous Leadership Award from The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Annapolis, Md.

Commencement exercises for the approximately 350 graduates will begin at 10 a.m. in the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater. Tickets are required for the amphitheater, and each graduate will receive four. No tickets are required to view the simultaneous telecast in the Lang Performing Arts Center and the Scheuer Room of Kohlberg Hall.

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