One Baltimore couple is getting “his and hers” honorary degrees from Johns Hopkins University today.
Filmmaker Spike Lee may be doing the heavy lifting when he gives the keynote speech and receives an honorary degree at Hopkins 140th commencement ceremony, but seven others will receive honorary degrees as well, including longtime Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Ellen Heller and her husband, attorney Shale Stiller from Roland Park who have made contributions in the fields of law and philanthropy.
Other recipients scheduled to receive honorary degrees during Hopkins commencement at the Royal Farms Arena include an award-winning novelist, a Nobel Prize winner and leaders in education, public health, and the humanities.
“The men and women in this group are visionaries who have challenged the status quo and changed the world for the better,” said Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels. “They have made a lasting impact on the arts, public health, the law, neuroscience, and the resilience of communities here in Baltimore and across the globe. At Johns Hopkins, we share their commitment to innovate and to work for the benefit of humankind, and I’m so pleased that these honorary degrees will celebrate all they have accomplished.”
The honorary degree recipients will be among more than 7,000 undergraduates, graduate students and professional students who will receive Hopkins degrees during the ceremony, which begins at 4 p. m. Today is the first time Hopkins is holding the ceremony at the Royal Farms Arena, 201 W. Baltimore Street. The event is not open to the public.
It is rare for two people from the same household to get degrees from the same university on the same day, but it is even more unusual for two people to receive honorary degrees from the same university on the same day, as are Heller and Stiller.
Here is the list of the university’s 2016 honorary degree recipients:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The author of acclaimed novels including Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2013, Adichie writes stories inspired by her life in Nigeria and the United States. She earned a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins’ Writing Seminars in 2003 and won a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2008.
Richard Axel: Axel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004 for work on how the brain deciphers the world of smell—research he did with his colleague, Linda Buck. He continues to study olfactory perception as a university professor and as an investigator at the Columbia University Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Susan Baker: Founder of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, Baker is the author of the Injury Fact Book and is known for developing the Injury Severity Score, a system used to assess patients with multiple injuries. She has tirelessly advocated for life-saving tools that, thanks to her efforts, are now common, including airbags and child safety caps.
Ellen M. Heller: The first woman appointed to be Maryland’s Administrative Circuit Court judge, Heller introduced court-ordered mediation for some civil cases, allowing them to be resolved faster and more affordably than through a trial. She recently concluded her term as trustee and chair of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. She graduated with honors from Johns Hopkins in 1972.
Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee: The filmmaker whose acclaimed works include Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever is also a writer, director, actor, producer, author, educator, and entrepreneur. The founder of 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Lee’s work is known for challenging assumptions about race and prejudice.
Judith Rodin: Rodin is the president of The Rockefeller Foundation, an organization focused on building greater resilience and more inclusive economies. A former psychology professor, she served as provost of Yale University and as the first woman president in the Ivy League at the University of Pennsylvania, her alma mater.
Shale Stiller: An eminent trial attorney and a partner at DLA Piper, Stiller was a leader in the comprehensive revision of the Code of Maryland (statutes). He has been at the forefront of recent high-profile, successful litigation against Iran, and has been named in every edition of The Best Lawyers in America since it was first published in 1987. Like his wife, he is a former chairman of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. An adjunct professor at the University of Maryland Law School for 53 years, Stiller earned a master of liberal arts degree with honors at Johns Hopkins in 1977.
Laurie Zabin: The founding director of the Bill and MelindaGates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, Zabin has led public health initiatives in developing nations. A former Planned Parenthood director, Zabin, who has a Ph.D. from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Hopkins, is also an expert on teen pregnancy and reproductive rights.
While it may be rare to have a husband and wife both receive honorary degrees from the same institution on the same day, Hopkins seems to specialize in identifying worthy candidates. Last year it presented his and hers honorary degrees to another Baltimore couple, Anthony and Lynn Deering.