Middlebury

Honorary degree recipients to include Academy Award winner, Army colonel and Juilliard president

March 4, 2010

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. ― An Academy award-winning documentary filmmaker, an Army colonel who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, a doctor whose work on infectious diseases helped earn her a MacArthur fellowship, a musician and scholar who is a leader in higher education, and a lawyer and activist whose efforts made groundbreaking legislation possible will be among the honorary degree recipients at Middlebury College’s commencement on May 23.

During the ceremony, filmmaker Errol Morris, Army Col. Mark Odom, Juilliard President Joseph Polisi, lawyer and activist Beth Robinson and physician Jill Seaman will receive honorary degrees, as will Middlebury’s 2010 commencement speakers: New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof and author Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof and WuDunn, who are husband and wife, will co-deliver this year’s address to graduates. More information about the commencement speakers is available in a previous announcement.

Errol Morris
Errol Morris

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris will receive a Doctor of Fine Arts degree. His film “The Fog of War,” a profile of former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, received the 2003 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Morris also directed the films “Standard Operating Procedure,” “Gates of Heaven,” “The Thin Blue Line” and “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control,” among others. His films have won many other awards as well, including the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Morris also directed the television series “First Person,” and he has made numerous television commercials, including campaigns for Apple, Citibank, Cisco Systems, Intel, American Express and Nike. He has received five fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2007 Morris was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Army Col. Mark W. Odom will receive a Doctor of Laws degree. Since becoming commander of the 2nd Ranger Battalion in 2008, he has been deployed multiple times to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a company commander in Korea before his first tour of duty in Iraq, where he served as the chief operations officer for the 173rd Airborne Brigade during the invasion in 2003. While on his second tour in Iraq in 2007, he served as the commander of the 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, which was stationed in Hawr Rajab. Odom and his unit contributed to one of the military’s major initiatives following the invasion — the effort to stabilize the country by building ties with Sunni tribes whose members included insurgents. After one mission, he received a Purple Heart when he was wounded by a roadside bomb. He later returned to lead his squadron following several months of recovery.  He is a member of the Middlebury College class of 1987.

Joseph W. Polisi
Joseph W. Polisi

Joseph W. Polisi, president of The Juilliard School since 1984, will receive a Doctor of Arts degree. Previously Polisi was dean of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, dean of faculty at the Manhattan School of Music, and executive officer of the Yale University School of Music. As a bassoonist, Polisi has performed as both a soloist and chamber musician throughout the United States, as well as at The Juilliard School, Alice Tully Hall, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, and at Avery Fisher Hall. He has written many scholarly and educational articles for professional journals; is a frequent speaker on arts and education issues; has produced several sound recordings, primarily focusing on contemporary American music; and has recorded a solo album of 20th-century bassoon music for Crystal Records. He is the author of “American Muse: The Life and Times of William Schuman” and “The Artist as Citizen.” 

Beth Robinson
Beth Robinson

Since 1993, lawyer Beth Robinson has been a member of the law firm Langrock Sperry and Wool, which has offices in Middlebury and Burlington, Vermont. Robinson, who will receive a Doctor of Laws degree, co-founded the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force in 1995 and was co-counsel to the plaintiffs in Baker v. State of Vermont, Vermont’s landmark case involving the rights of same-sex couples. She helped direct the lobbying effort which resulted in the passage in 2000 of Vermont’s civil union law, the first such law in the nation. In 2009 Robinson’s efforts as a leader of the freedom to marry movement in Vermont culminated in the passage of a bill extending the right to marry to same-sex couples over Governor Douglas’ veto. She has won numerous awards, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont’s David Curtis Civil Liberties Award, which she received in 2009. The Burlington Free Press named Robinson the 2009 Vermonter of the Year.

Jill Seaman

Jill Seaman
Middlebury Class of 1974

Physician Jill Seaman has worked to deliver and improve treatment for infectious diseases endemic to remote and war-torn Southern Sudan since 1989. Seaman, who will receive a Doctor of Science degree, currently spends half of each year in Sudan and the other half in Alaska, where she provides health services to Yup’ik Eskimo communities. Initially she worked to reduce leishmaniasis ― a deadly, parasite-borne infection ― and in recent years has focused on the rapid spread of tuberculosis, malaria and hepatitis B throughout East Africa. Using modern medical techniques, such as faster diagnostic methods and affordable drug combinations, she treats semi-nomadic and illiterate patients in areas with no health care infrastructure, electricity or running water. In 2009 she was named a MacArthur Fellow in recognition of her pioneering work. Seaman is a member of the Middlebury College class of 1974.

The Middlebury College commencement ceremony will be held outdoors regardless of the weather on the main quadrangle behind Voter Hall on College Street (Route 125) at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 23. More than 5,000 family and friends are expected to attend.