Vaccine pioneer Drew Weissman and historian Annette Gordon-Reed to speak at Brandeis’ 72nd Commencement Exercises

Four headshots arranged in a checkerboard pattern with blue/black squuares in between: Drew Weissman, top left, Annette Gordon-Reed, bottom left, Katalin Kariko, top right, Don Soffer, bottom right

From left to right: Drew Weissman ’81, GSAS MA’81, P’15; Annette Gordon-Reed, Katalin Karikó and Donald "Don" M. Soffer ’54

Physician-researcher Drew Weissman ’81, GSAS MA’81, P’15, and renowned historian Annette Gordon-Reed will deliver the keynote addresses and receive honorary degrees at Brandeis University’s 72nd Commencement Exercises on May 21.

Two other distinguished individuals will also receive honorary degrees: biochemist Katalin Karikó and real estate developer and philanthropist ​​Donald “Don” M. Soffer ’54.

“The accomplished men and women receiving honorary degrees this year have distinguished themselves in the pursuit of science, telling the untold histories of Black Americans, and channeling business acumen toward transformative philanthropy,” said Brandeis University President Ron Liebowitz. “I am particularly pleased that our graduates will have the opportunity to hear from Drew Weissman and Annette Gordon-Reed, two brilliant researchers at the top of their respective fields.”

In a collaboration with Karikó that spanned decades, Weissman conducted research on the modification of nucleic acids for RNA therapeutics and vaccines, which ultimately led to the development of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for COVID-19. Weissman is the Roberts Family Professor in Vaccine Research, the director of the Penn Institute for RNA Innovation, and the director of Vaccine Research in the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Pennsylvania. He continues to work on finding vaccines and therapies for conditions from the flu to HIV to cancer.

Gordon-Reed is an author and scholar whose research is situated at the intersections of history, politics, law, race, and culture. A professor of history at Harvard University, Gordon-Reed has won 16 book prizes over the course of her career, including the National Book Award in 2008 and the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2009 for “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.” She has been recognized with a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship in the humanities, and the National Humanities Medal, bestowed upon her by President Barack Obama.

Weissman will address undergraduate students at their morning ceremony; Gordon-Reed will speak at the afternoon ceremony for masters’ and PhD recipients from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, the Brandeis International Business School, and the Rabb School of Graduate Professional Studies. Both ceremonies will be held at the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center.

Karikó co-founded and was the CEO of RNARx, and was senior vice president at BioNTech SE. She is an adjunct professor of neurosurgery at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She and Weissman were both named to Time Magazine’s Heroes of the Year list in 2021, and were also honored that year by Brandeis with the Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Research.

Soffer has been a leader in real estate development for more than 50 years, building shopping centers, malls, hotels, and other business properties across the country, and developing an entire city in Florida. A longtime Brandeis supporter and former football player, Soffer was inducted into the Brandeis Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009 and received the Alumni Achievement Award in 2019.

Brandeis also announced its student speakers for the undergraduate and graduate student ceremonies. Nathalie Vieux-Gresham ’23, a neuroscience major from Harlem, New York City, will speak at the morning undergraduate ceremony and Emiliano Gutierrez Popoca, PhD ’23, English, a native of Mexico, will deliver the student address during the graduate ceremony in the afternoon.

Categories: Alumni, Student Life

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