Former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering to speak at commencement

Senior statesman, four others to receive honorary degrees

Thomas Pickering, former United States ambassador, will be the 2015 commencement speaker at Brandeis University on May 17. Ambassador Pickering served more than four decades as a U.S. ambassador, including to the United Nations, the Russian Federation, India, Israel, and Jordan.

Thomas Pickering

Ambassador Pickering’s career and service have been recognized through a number of awards and honors. He was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, the Department of State’s highest award, in 1996. He also won the Distinguished Presidential Award in 1983 and 1986. Ambassador Pickering holds the title of Career Ambassador, the highest honor in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Since its founding in 1948, Brandeis has prepared its students to be contributors to a dynamic society and encouraged them to aspire to be global citizens and to value public service. In honoring Ambassador Pickering, who has dedicated his career to service and spent decades working to build strong relationships between sometimes disparate world partners, Brandeis highlights the value of working together for the betterment of humankind.

Brandeis will bestow honorary degrees at the commencement ceremony to Ambassador Pickering and four other recipients:

Suzanne Farrell

A legendary figure in the world of ballet, Ms. Suzanne Farrell is the founder of The Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Born in Cincinnati, Ms. Farrell moved to New York City in 1960 after winning a Ford Foundation scholarship at the School of American Ballet. One year later, she joined George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet. By the mid-1960s, she was Balanchine’s most celebrated ballerina. She danced a repertory of more than one hundred ballets during her 28 years of performing on stage, nearly a third of which were created expressly for her by Balanchine and other choreographers. After retiring from the stage, Ms. Farrell has taught and traveled extensively, working to bring the work of Balanchine, her mentor, to people around the world.

Jamaica Kincaid

Ms. Jamaica Kincaid, who was born in Antigua, grew up under the pressures of poverty and colonialism, which she later used as inspiration for her literary works. Praised for her short fiction, novels, and essays, Ms. Kincaid draws on her life experiences to write about race, gender, loss, and angst. Her writing has been praised for its illustration of complex emotional experiences. Ms. Kincaid’s literary works explore divisive issues in a deceptively simple style, making them relatable to readers from all backgrounds. Some of her works include “At the Bottom of the River,” “Annie John,” “A Small Place,” “Lucy,” “The Autobiography of My Mother,” and “See Now Then.” Kincaid received the Prix Femina Étranger for “My Brother,” in 2000 and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009. She is currently professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

Yotam Ottolenghi

An acclaimed chef, food writer and restaurateur born in Jerusalem and based in London, Mr. Yotam Ottolenghi is known for his Middle Eastern-inspired recipes and vegetable dishes. He began his career as a chef in the pastry department of The Capital Restaurant in London before moving on to become head pastry chef at Baker and Spice. He then founded Ottolenghi, a small deli in Notting Hill, London. Mr. Ottolenghi is the chef-patron of four successful Ottolenghi delis and NOPI restaurant in London, writes a weekly column in the Guardian’s Weekend magazine, and has authored or co-authored four bestselling cookbooks. A former journalist who once served as the sub-editor on the news desk of Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, Mr. Ottolenghi is a graduate of Tel Aviv University, where he received a master’s degree in philosophy and comparative literature.

Helen Vendler

Ms. Helen Vendler is a literary critic and the A. Kingsley Porter University Professor at Harvard University. She has written books on Yeats, Herbert, Keats, Stevens, Shakespeare, Heaney, and Dickinson. Her most recent books include “Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form (The Clarendon Lectures),” “Last Looks, Last Books: Stevens, Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Merrill (The Mellon Lectures),” “Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries,” and the upcoming “The Ocean, the Bird, and the Scholar.” Ms. Vendler is also a frequent reviewer of poetry and literature in journals such as The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review and The New Republic. Ms. Vendler has held many fellowships, including three Fulbrights, and has frequently been a judge for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. She is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Modern Language Association, of which she was president in 1980.

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