President Rebecca Chopp announced today that Robert Zoellick '75 has shared his decision to withdraw from participation in the College's 2013 Commencement ceremony. Zoellick was one of three candidates selected by the Honorary Degree Committee and confirmed by the faculty to receive this distinction this year.
In a message to the community, Chopp noted that, "in light of the discussions in the student press" in which Zoellick's selection "has been the subject of debate, he has informed us that he will neither accept the degree nor participate in the ceremony. In his words, 'I don't want to disrupt what should be a special day for the graduates, their families, and friends. Nor do I have an interest in participating in an unnecessarily controversial event.'"
Chopp added that "Zoellick - throughout his career but perhaps most notably during his tenure at the World Bank - has combined a knowledge of the global economy with a vision of how that economy can address not only poverty but also social equality and justice. He is a model for students who want to combine knowledge with service, ethics with outreach, and wisdom with a commitment to the wider world. Swarthmore is very proud to claim him as an alumnus and stands by its decision to award him the honorary degree.
"As president, it is my vision, and has consistently been my experience, that ours is a community fully capable of respectfully embracing a wide variety of viewpoints and experiences. We have a long, proud history of inviting members of our alumni body and others back to campus each year to share their experiences and wisdom with the graduating class. In both this country and around the world, they put their knowledge to use by addressing society's most complex problems. Most of our honorary degree nominees have been Swarthmore graduates who have gone on to become leaders in their professional, civic, and community lives both around the country and around the world, and this year's recipients are certainly no exception."
Chopp concluded her message by encouraging the community to join her "in anticipating the pleasure and honor of hearing from our other two honorary degree recipients, entrepreneur and humanitarian Tralance Addy '69 and novelist and social activist Lorene Cary."
Update, Tues, April 9: This story has been covered nationally by Inside Higher Ed.