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Documentarian and Science Journalist to Receive Honorary Degrees at 2024 Commencement

From left: Louis Massiah and Lulu Miller ’05.

From left: Louis Massiah and Lulu Miller ’05.

During Swarthmore College’s 152nd Commencement ceremony on May 26, Co-Acting Presidents Tomoko Sakomura and Rob Goldberg will award honorary degrees to Louis Massiah, documentary filmmaker and founder and executive director of Scribe Video Center, and Lulu Miller ’05, NPR radio reporter and podcast host.

Update, May 25, 2024: Joseph Altuzarra '05 was originally selected as a 2024 Honorary Degree recipient. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen, unavoidable circumstances, he was unable to attend this year's Commencement ceremony to accept the degree. He sends his deep regrets, along with his warmest and sincere congratulations to the Class of 2024.

In addition, approximately 425 undergraduates in the Class of 2024 will receive their degrees.

Louis Massiah

Louis MassiahLouis Massiah is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who addresses important but often neglected historical and political subjects with unique insight and artistry. He is the founder and director of Scribe Video Center (Scribe) in Philadelphia, a nonprofit media arts center that seeks to explore, develop, and advance the use of electronic media as artistic media and tools for progressive social change. 

Massiah was the Lang Visiting Professor for Issues of Social Change at Swarthmore for both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years. During that time, he held a joint appointment in Black Studies and Film and Media Studies. During that time, he taught a new course, The Documentary of Utility: Documentary Filmmaking Approaches in Africa and the African Diaspora. He also gave a public presentation called “Hayti and the Power of Community Media.”

Massiah has a long resume of appointments at colleges and universities, including serving as a lecturer and resident artist at Princeton University, City College of New York, Ithaca College, American University, Haverford College, Howard University, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania. From 2022 to 2023, he was one of eight Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professors and Scholars at M.I.T. 

Massiah’s innovative approach to documentary filmmaking and community media have earned him numerous honors, including a duPont-Columbia Award, a George Foster Peabody Award, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, a Philadelphia Cultural Treasure Artist Fellowship, and two Rockefeller/Tribeca Fellowships. He was awarded a local Emmy for producing the MOVE Commission Hearings (144 hours of live coverage examining the MOVE bombing) and received two national Emmy nominations for documentary writing and research for several of his films. 

Massiah’s award-winning documentaries include The Bombing of Osage Avenue (1986); W.E.B. Du Bois – A Biography in Four Voices (1996); two films (Power! and A Nation of Law?) for the Eyes on the Prize II PBS series (1987); and A is for Anarchist, B is for Brown (2002). His films have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Berlin Film Festival (Germany), the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar (New York), and FESPACO, the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), among others. In 2019, he was chosen to represent the United States with an exhibit of 44 short films created through Scribe for the inauguration of the Musée des Civilisations Noires in Dakar, Senegal. He is completing a documentary on his cultural collaborator of many years, writer and filmmaker Toni Cade Bambara.

“What an extraordinary recognition! As someone who has taught and held residencies at a variety of colleges and universities, I can say without hesitation that Swarthmore is one of the best undergraduate educations in this country. The approaches to learning and teaching have allowed both students and faculty to blossom as engaged, creative, intellectually rigorous, and socially committed individuals. I have developed many friends and creative allies from Swarthmore in my work as a documentary filmmaker, so this honor is especially meaningful.”

Photo by Larry Kesterson.

Lulu Miller ’05

Lulu MillerLulu Miller ’05 is a Peabody Award-winning journalist known for her ability to blend scientific inquiry with compelling storytelling to reveal breaches in expectations — where reality is stranger than our beliefs about it. The self-described “science nerd” has been working in public radio for nearly 20 years and is the co-host of WNYC’s “Radiolab,” a unique podcast that weaves stories about science and curiosity into sound- and music-rich documentaries.

Miller, a history major at the College who was also a member of the rugby team and improv group Vertigo-go, is also the creator and host of “Terrestrials,” Radiolab's nature podcast for children. After graduating from Swarthmore, Miller joined WNYC’s “Radiolab” as an intern and soon became its first producer.

She went on to study creative writing at the University of Virginia, where she taught and wrote fiction on a Poe-Faulkner Fellowship. In 2013, she joined National Public Radio (NPR) as a science reporter. In 2015, Miller co-founded and co-hosted the NPR podcast “Invisibilia,” which explores the invisible forces that shape human behavior and perception in a compelling and thought-provoking way. The radio program has been featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.”

Miller’s book, Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, was published in 2020. It became a national bestseller and earned a spot among the LA Book Prize finalists, among other honors. The book is a scientific thriller and memoir that explores the life and work of David Starr Jordan, whom Miller describes as a “biologist-turned-eugenicist whose craving to order the world drove him to madness.” Why Fish Don’t Exist is now required reading at several colleges and universities and has been translated into 11 languages. 

Miller’s writing has also been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and other publications. Miller has received honors from the Associated Press, the George Foster Peabody Awards, and the National Center on Disability and Journalism. Her work has also been recognized by the Third Coast Audio Festival, The Missouri Review, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Overseas Press Club. Miller’s first children's book, Trucky Roads is due out in June.

"I didn't expect the deep emotion that welled up when President Smith cold-called me,” Miller said upon receiving the news of the honorary degree. “I can feel like a strange creature roaming through dark worlds with thin skin and hokey reflexes; I don't always make sense to the people around me. To know that Swarthmore sees value in this work of trying to uncover breaches in our scientific beliefs absolutely shocked me and means a whole lot."

Photo by Kristen Finn.

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