(AMHERST, Mass., April 4, 2023; updated May 18, 2003;) — Six influential leaders in the arts, biotech, higher education, environmental journalism, business and literature will receive honorary degrees from Amherst College during Commencement on Sunday, May 28, at 10 a.m. on the school’s main quad. Amherst President Michael A. Elliott will deliver the traditional Commencement address during the ceremony, and each of the honorees will speak in a series of conversations that are free and open to the public on Saturday, May 27. The schedule for the weekend is on the Commencement website and will be updated as more details become available.

This year’s honorary degree recipients are:

  • P. Gabrielle Foreman ’86, Penn State University professor and 2022 MacArthur Fellow
  • Stephen Hoge ’98, president of Moderna Inc.
  • Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president emeritus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • Elizabeth Kolbert, author and New Yorker writer
  • Paul Polman, Dutch businessman and author
  • Oleksandra Matviichuk, Ukrainian human rights lawyer
  • Tracy K. Smith, two-time poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner

The Honorees and Their Accomplishments

P. Gabrielle Foreman ’86

P. Gabrielle Foreman is a professor of English, African American Studies and History and Paterno Family Chair of Liberal Arts at Penn State University, where she also co-founded and co-directs the Center for Black Digital Research. A poet’s daughter who hails from the South Side of Chicago and Venice, Calif., Foreman is the founding faculty director of the award-winning Colored Conventions Project, which brings the history of early Black organizing to digital life, making once-rare records fully and free available for the very first time at ColoredConventions.org. For a decade, she has also been part of a trio that engages choreographers, poets, student researchers and performance companies to bring early Black history to the stage. She is author of five books and editions, including, most recently, The Colored Conventions Movement: Black Organizing in the Nineteenth Century and Praise Songs for Dave the Potter: Art and Poetry for David Drake. After graduating from Amherst, she earned her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a 2022 MacArthur Fellow.

Stephen Hoge ’98

Stephen Hoge serves as the president and head of research and development for Moderna. He has led the company’s science for nearly 10 years, overseeing the creation of platform and therapeutic areas and one of the world’s first mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. He currently leads all R&D, from basic science through clinical development and regulation. He joined Moderna in 2012 after working for McKinsey & Co., where he was a partner in the healthcare practice. Prior to that, he was a resident physician in New York City. After graduating from Amherst with a degree in neuroscience, he received his doctor of medicine degree from the University of California, San Francisco. 


Freeman A. Hrabowski III

Freeman A. Hrabowski III is president emeritus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), which he led from 1992 to 2022. His research and publications focus on science and math education, with special emphasis on minority participation and performance. Among many other achievements, he chaired the National Academies’ committee that produced the 2011 report Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads, as well as the 2012 President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans, to which he was appointed by President Barack Obama. Hrabowski was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2022. That same year, he was named the American Council on Education Centennial Fellow and Harvard University’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture Speaker, both of which were inaugural appointments. That same year–and in recognition of its namesake’s work–the Howard Hughes Medical Institute launched the $1.5 billion Freeman Hrabowski Scholars Program to help build a scientific workforce that more fully reflects the increasing diversity in the United States. Hrabowski’s 2013 TED talk highlighting the “Four Pillars of College Success in Science” has been viewed and shared more than a million times on social media.

Elizabeth Kolbert

Elizabeth Kolbert has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1999. Previously, she worked at The New York Times, where she wrote the Metro Matters column and served as the paper’s Albany bureau chief. Her three-part series on global warming, “The Climate of Man,” won the 2006 National Magazine Award for Public Interest. In 2010, she received the National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism. Last fall, she was recognized with the BBVA Foundations’ 4th Biophilia Award for Environmental Communication “for her extraordinary ability to communicate in a rigorous and attractive manner the fundamental environmental challenges of our time, climate change and the biodiversity crisis, to a wide global audience.” She edited The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009 and is the author of The Prophet of Love: And Other Tales of Power and Deceit, Field Notes from a Catastrophe and The Sixth Extinction, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2015. She received the Blake-Dodd Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2017. Her latest book is Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future.

Paul Polman

Business leader, campaigner and co-author of Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take, a Financial Times Business Book of the Year, Paul Polman works to accelerate action by businesses to tackle climate change and inequality. As CEO of Unilever from 2009 to 2019, Paul demonstrated that business can profit through purpose, marrying a long-term, multi-stakeholder model with excellent financial performance. During Polman’s tenure, the company consistently ranked first in the world for sustainability. Today, Polman works across a range of organizations to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which he helped develop. This includes his work to drive systems change with Systemiq and bold new industry coalitions, including in fashion and food. He leads the UN Global Compact, is an ambassador for the Race to Zero and works to develop a next generation of leaders through the Oxford University Saïd Business School, INSEAD, One Young World and others. Polman actively campaigns on a range of human rights issues, including promoting disability inclusion through the Valuable 500 and the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust.

Tracy K. Smith

Tracy K. Smith is the Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at Harvard Radcliffe Institute and a professor of English and of African and African American Studies in the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. She received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her third book of poems, Life on Mars, and twice served as poet laureate of the United States, during which time she traveled across the country hosting poetry readings and conversations in rural communities; edited the anthology American Journal: Fifty Poems for Our Time; and launched the American Public Media podcast The Slowdown. Some of her other books include The Body’s Question, Duende, the memoir Ordinary Light, Such Color: New and Selected Poems and the collection Eternity: Selected Poems. She also co-edited the anthologies There's A Revolution Outside, My Love, Letters from a Crisis and The Best American Poetry 2021. In addition, Smith wrote the libretto for two operas: Castor and Patience and A Marvelous Order. Her next book, To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul, will be published in November.

About Amherst College

Amherst College prepares students to use ideas to make a difference in the world. Since its founding in 1821 in Western Massachusetts, Amherst has demonstrated steadfast confidence in the value of the liberal arts and the importance of critical thinking. Today, its financial aid program is among the most substantial in the nation, and its student body is among the most diverse. Small classes, an open curriculum and a singular focus on undergraduate education ensure that leading scholars engage daily with talented, curious students, equipping them for leadership in an increasingly global and complex world.


Listen to audio recordings of the talks by honorary degree recipients held during Commencement weekend.

Video: A Fireside Chat with Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, Stefan Bradley, and Eddie Cole, Chaired by Hilary Moss

Related Reading

Ukrainian Human Rights Lawyer Oleksandra Matviichuk to Be Honored at Amherst College’s Commencement on May 28

The Moderna Era

Alumni Profile: P. Gabrielle Foreman ’86