Four extraordinary individuals to receive honorary degrees from Brandeis

Brandeis will award honorary degrees to Ruth Calderon, Alan Hassenfeld, Marta Kauffman '78 and Howardena Pindell

four headshots in a two-over-two arrangement, clockwise from left, Ruth Calderon, Marta Kauffman, Howardena Pindell and Allan Hassenfeld

Clockwise, from left: Jewish cultural scholar Ruth Calderon, television producer Marta Kauffman '78, artist Howardena Pindell, philanthropist Alan Hassenfeld

Each year at commencement ceremonies, Brandeis and many other universities award honorary degrees to individuals who stand as an inspiration to the graduating class. While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a stop to on-campus commencement exercises for this year, Brandeis will still celebrate the accomplishments of honorary degree recipients, with plans to honor them in person at a later date.

Brandeis will award honorary degrees to Ruth Calderon, a scholar of Jewish religious texts and a former member of the Israeli Knesset; philanthropist Alan Hassenfeld, retired CEO of Hasbro and co-chair of the Brandeis International Business School board of advisors; television producer Marta Kauffman ‘78, creator of the iconic series “Friends” and more recently “Grace and Frankie;” and Howardena Pindell, American painter and mixed-media artist whose body of work since the 1960s confronts racism and other forms of inequality.

“All our honorary degree recipients have distinguished themselves through perseverance, resilience, and the ability to adapt with changing times. These are all characteristics shared by our impressive class of 2020, which has performed outstanding work this spring under extraordinary conditions,” said Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz. “Just as we plan to have an on-campus celebration of our 2020 graduates next year, we hope our honorary degree recipients will join us at Brandeis to be celebrated at a later date.”

Changes to the academic calendar as a result of the conversion to online learning for all Brandeis students resulted in the university moving the official date of degree conferrals for undergraduate and graduate students to May 24 from May 17. The university and its individual departments are planning virtual celebrations for students on and after that date, and an on-campus celebration for all students receiving degrees this spring will be held next spring.

Ruth Calderon will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree. She believes her personal mission is to create a “Jewish renewal” by encouraging and teaching Jews — in Israel and in the Diaspora — to turn to Jewish texts like the Talmud and Torah and interpret them with their own understanding. She has founded several pluralistic organizations dedicated to Jewish learning and culture, and spent two years in the Knesset, including serving as deputy speaker.

Alan Hassenfeld will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree. He spent 35 years at Hasbro, the toy company founded by his immigrant great grandfather in 1923, building it into a multi-billion-dollar global company. Since retiring as CEO in 2003 he has led his family’s philanthropic foundation to make significant contributions to the health and well-being of children. He made a major gift to establish the Hassenfeld Family Innovation Center at Brandeis and serves as co-chair of the board of advisors of Brandeis International Business School.

Marta Kauffman ′78 will receive a Doctor of Creative Arts honorary degree. Kauffman majored in theater at Brandeis and went on, with David Crane ′79, to create and produce “Friends,” one of the most iconic comedy series in television history. The series garnered 62 Emmy nominations over its decade-long run. More recently, she created and produced “Grace and Frankie,” which has generated 11 Emmy nominations since premiering in 2015. Earlier this year, she received the Norman Lear Achievement Award in Television from the Producers Guild of America.

Howardena Pindell will receive a Doctor of Fine Arts honorary degree. Each of her pieces carries traces of her personal history, while also making bold statements on issues such as racism, sexism, AIDS, homelessness, and war. After earning her MFA from Yale University she became the first female African American curator at the Museum of Modern Art. Her five-decade-long career was the subject of “What Remains to be Seen,” a major exhibition at the Rose Art Museum earlier this year.

Categories: Alumni, General

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