Historical Fiction Novelist
Best-selling historical fiction novelist Tracy Chevalier always thought about being a writer in her youth, but it wasn’t until her 20s that she began to write seriously. Audiences are glad she did: Chevalier has published seven critically acclaimed novels, most notably Girl With a Pearl Earring (1999), a tour de force that was adapted into a film. Her latest novel, The Last Runaway (2013), imagines an English Quaker who emigrates to Ohio in 1850 and is drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad in Oberlin.
Chevalier received her bachelor’s in English at Oberlin in 1984. Soon after, she moved to London and began a career as a reference book editor. She went on to earn a master’s in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. While she was studying, she began writing her first novel, The Virgin Blue, published in 1997.
Her next novel was a commercial masterpiece. Girl With a Pearl Earring is one of the best-loved paintings in the world, yet its model is a mystery. Chevalier combines historical fact with imagination to reveal the story of a 16-year-old maid and the painting by 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. The book has sold more than 4 million copies worldwide and was made into a film by the same name.
An admirer of Vermeer’s paintings, Chevalier has described the process of developing the story as “effortless…. I could see all the drama and conflict in the look on her face. Vermeer had done my work for me.”
Inspiration for The Last Runaway came during a visit to Oberlin in April 2009, in which she had a chance to see novelist and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison dedicating a Bench by the Road to mark Oberlin as a significant place in African American history, as well as an important stop in the Underground Railroad.
Chevalier was born and raised in Washington, DC. She was a devoted reader of Anne of Green Gables and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, both of which came to mind when writing The Last Runaway. Her other novels are Falling Angels (2001), The Lady and the Unicorn (2003), Burning Bright (2007), and Remarkable Creatures (2009). She lives in London with her husband and son.
Moderator, Religions for Peace USA
Tarunjit Singh Butalia is past secretary general of the World Sikh Council (America Region) and is moderator of Religions for Peace USA.
Butalia is secretary of the board of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions and a member of the board of scholars and practitioners of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. He is a past board member of the North American Interfaith Network and of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
In June 2005, Butalia presented at a conference entitled “A Critical Moment in Interreligious Dialogue," organized by the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. In January 2006, he helped organize the first national gathering of religious leaders in Chicago presented by Religions for Peace. In August 2006, he participated in the 8th World Assembly of Religions for Peace in Kyoto, Japan
Butalia has helped to facilitate Sikh-Catholic dialogue with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. In October 2011, he represented the Sikh faith at the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace, hosted by Pope Benedict XVI in Assisi, Italy.
Butalia was a member of the Religious Experience Advisory Council of the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, and he coedited the book Religion in Ohio: Profiles of Faith Communities. He is an invited contributor to the Huffington Post Religion website.
He is secretary of the Sikh Educational and Religious Foundation and president of the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio. He has served as faculty advisor to Ohio State University Campus Interfaith Council and is a member of the Religious Advisory Council of the mayor of Columbus, Ohio. Butalia has served as secretary of the Columbus-based Interfaith Center for Peace, and is co-convener of Faith Communities Uniting for Peace.
In May 2004, he received the inaugural Living Faith Interfaith Award from the Columbus Metropolitan Area Church Council. The Columbus Dispatch recognized his interfaith efforts in November 2002 in a special “Faith in Action” section.
Butalia holds a PhD in civil engineering from Ohio State University and is on the research faculty of the university. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen and has lived in central Ohio for almost 25 years.
Honorary Degree Recipients
Writer, Producer, Director
Starting out as a writer and producer with Roger Corman in 1971, Jonathan Demme has directed and produced more than 30 movies. His films, which have been nominated for 20 Academy Awards, include Philadelphia, Rachel Getting Married, The Manchurian Candidate, and Silence of the Lambs, for which he won the Oscar for Best Director in 1991.
He has an ongoing relationship with Oberlin College's Cinema Studies Program and is actively involved as an advisor to the Apollo Outreach Initiative, a community media literacy project housed in the cinema studies department.
Demme’s many recent projects and collaborations are in various stages of production. I'm Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Mad and the Beautiful, the first of a projected series of five New Orleans portrait documentaries, premiered last fall on Public Broadcasting Service’s highly regarded documentary series, POV. Demme’s latest chapter of Right to Return: New Home Movies from the Lower 9th Ward — a series of mini-documentaries in collaboration with talk show host and political commentator Tavis Smiley and focusing on the struggles of those remaining in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—is currently in postproduction. Demme’s musical portrait documentary, Enzo Avitabile Music Life, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August 2012 and will be released in the United States in 2013.
Fear of Falling, directed by Demme and based on Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn’s adaptation of the play by Henrik Ibsen, The Master Builder, is now in post-production and will be released later this year. Currently, Demme is serving as executive producer on The Foreigner's Home, a documentary currently being directed by cinema studies professors Geoff Pingree and Rian Brown and edited from footage of the 2006 exhibition curated by novelist Toni Morrison at the Louvre Museum in Paris. He is also working with Heather McGowan on her original screenplay, Old Fires.
Demme was born in Long Island, New York, in 1944 and grew up near Miami, Florida. He presently resides in Rockland County, New York, with his artist wife Joanne Howard. He is the father of three children, Ramona '09, Brooklyn '11, and Josephine '17. He divides his career between feature films, documentaries, and music performance films.
Research Professor, Harvard University
Scientist, teacher, and researcher David Evans ’63 was born in Washington, DC, in 1941. He received his BA at Oberlin in 1963, focusing on organic and physical chemistry and working under the direction of Professor Norman Craig in the general area of vibrational spectroscopy.
Evans subsequently obtained his PhD at the California Institute of Technology in 1967, where he worked under the direction of Professor Robert E. Ireland in the general area of organic synthesis. That year he joined the faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), becoming full professor in 1973 shortly before returning to work at Caltech. In 1983, Evans joined the faculty at Harvard University in the chemistry department, and in 1990 he was appointed the Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Chemistry. Following a three-year term as department chair, he was named research professor in 1999.
Evans was elected into the National Academy of Sciences in 1984, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1988, the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2008, and Humboldt Senior Scientist in 2008. Evans has also been recognized for his teaching skills, receiving a Distinguished Teaching Award in 1967 from the UCLA Alumni Association. He also received the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Prize for Contributions to Undergraduate Education at Harvard in 2007.
Evans has been the recipient of numerous honors: ACS Award for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry (1982); Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award (1988); Yamada Prize (1997); Tetrahedron Prize (1998); Robert Robinson Award, Oxford Univ. (1998); Tetrahedron Prize (1998); Prelog Medal, ETH (1999); Arthur C. Cope Award (2000); Caltech Distinguished Alumni Award (2002); Nagoya Medal (2003); Karl Ziegler Prize, Max Planck Institute (2003); Gibbs Medal (2005); Glenn T. Seaborg Medal, UCLA (2006); the Herbert C. Brown Award (2007); ACS Award for Creativity in Molecular Design and Synthesis (2010); the Welch Prize in Chemistry, awarded by the Welch Foundation (2012); and the Roger Adams Award administered by the ACS (2013).
He has played an important role as a mentor to young scientists and academicians, with more than 70 students from his laboratory entering into tenured professional positions in North America, Europe, and Asia. To date, he has been associated with 98 PhD students and 170 postdoctoral fellows. In addition to his mentoring work, Evans has published more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific publications.
Musicologist and Music Critic
Richard Taruskin is an American musicologist and music critic, best known for his thought-provoking essays on politics and music, censorship, and ethical issues in classical music. He is a professor of musicology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of the monumental six-volume The Oxford History of Western Music as well as many other books and articles. Taruskin also serves as a regular music critic for the New York Times and the New Republic.
Born in 1945 in New York to parents who were both musicians, Taruskin began studying music at the New York High School of Music and Art. He continued his education at Columbia University, where he studied Russian and music, earning a BA, MA, and PhD in historical musicology. Upon completing his degrees in 1976, Taruskin joined the Columbia faculty, where he remained until 1987, when he transferred to the University of California, Berkeley. He holds the Class of 1955 Chair in the department of musicology.
Taruskin’s scholarly work is widely diverse, focusing on sacred music of the 15th and 16th centuries, the interrelation of music and politics, music historiography, and issues of musical performance practice, among other topics. In addition to his many writings, Taruskin has recorded and edited various works of Renaissance music. He is widely acknowledged as the leading contemporary scholar in the field of Russian music.
Among the awards presented to Taruskin over the years include the 1978 Noah Greenberg Prize from the American Musicological Society, the Alfred Einstein Award in 1980, the Dent Medal in 1987, the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 1988, and the Kinkeldey Prize in 1997 and 2006 from the American Musicological Society.
Norma Percy ’63 makes television histories that aim to bring viewers inside the room with presidents and prime ministers as crucial political decisions are made. Her most recent, a three-hour series The Iraq War, will be shown on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in June and on the National Geographic Channel later in the summer. Her previous series, Putin, Russia & the West (2012), just won a George Foster Peabody award.
A BBC policy document described Percy’s work with her colleague, Brian Lapping, as a “virtually new genre of documentary” that retells momentous events from the recent past with meticulous objectivity—and with the principal players recording their versions of what happened.
“In Praise of Norma Percy,” a 2009 editorial in the Guardian newspaper, said that Percy’s documentaries stand out “most of all for the extraordinary range of political leaders who agree to appear on them … from President Clinton to Slobodan Milosevic. Every significant international story seems to have its Percy film.” They sustain “the gold standard of documentary making.”
Her best-known series The Death Of Yugoslavia (1995) and its sequel The Fall Of Milosevic (2003), documented how Slobodan Milosevic carried out ethnic cleansing. The 2nd Russian Revolution (1991) followed Gorbachev and the fall of the Soviet Union. Recent series include Putin, Russia & The West (2012), Iran & the West (2009), and Elusive Peace (2005), and 50 Years War (1998) on the Israeli-Arab conflict. Others include Avenging Terror (2002) on diplomacy after 9/11, Endgame In Ireland (2001), and Watergate (1994).
Percy’s work has won her dozens of major awards, including an Emmy, two British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards, five Royal Television Society Awards, three DuPont-Columbia University Awards, five George Foster Peabody Awards, and two Grierson British Documentary awards.
In 2010, she became the first documentary maker to win the Orwell Prize; also the first to win the James Cameron Award for Outstanding Journalism, both print and broadcast in 2000 and again in 2003.
Raised in New York City, she developed an interest in politics at Oberlin under Professor George Lanyi, graduating with honors in government in 1963. At Lanyi’s suggestion, she went to the London School of Economics. She began working toward an MPhil degree but ran out of money and got a job as a member of Parliament’s researcher in the U.K. Percy began working with Brian Lapping in 1973. She joined him when he set up an independent TV production company in 1988, and became a founding director of Brook Lapping Productions in 1997.
Percy is married to Steve Jones, broadcaster, author, journalist, and professor of genetics at University College London.
Professor of Psychiatry, University of California School of Medicine, San Diego
Larry R. Squire ’63 is distinguished professor of psychiatry, neurosciences, and psychology at the University of California School of Medicine, San Diego (UCSD), and research career scientist at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Diego.
An award-winning research scientist, Squire investigates the organization and neurological foundations of memory. He is a pioneer in studying how memory traces are organized in the mammalian brain. His work involves the study of neurological patients and rodents and combines the traditions of cognitive science and neuroscience. His publications include more than 480 research articles and two books: Memory and Brain (Oxford Press, 1987) and Memory: From Mind to Molecules with Eric Kandel (Roberts & Co., 2009). He also is senior editor of the textbook Fundamental Neuroscience, now in its fourth edition, and editor-in-chief of The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography, now in seven volumes.
Squire majored in psychology at Oberlin. He received his PhD in brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and did postdoctoral study at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine before coming to UCSD.
Squire served as president of the Society for Neuroscience (1993-1994) and is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Institute of Medicine. He is a William James Fellow of the American Psychological Society.
He is also a recipient of numerous awards including the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, the William Middleton Award from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievements in Health, the McGovern Award (American Association for the Advancement of Science), the Metropolitan Life Award for Medical Research, the Karl Lashley Award (American Philosophical Society), the Herbert Crosby Warren Medal (Society of Experimental Psychologists), the Award for Scientific Reviewing (National Academy of Sciences), and the Goldman-Rakic Prize (Brain and Behavior Research Foundation).
Award for Distinguished Service to the Community
Associate Professor Emeritus African American studies
Booker Carver Peek is in his 47th year of teaching, although he retired from the African American studies department in 2011. In his four decades as a scholar and educator at Oberlin College, Peek has guided, mentored, and helped to transform countless students inside the classroom and beyond. His dedication to the development of young minds is best reflected in the impact and legacy of the Words are Very Empowering (WAVE) program for Oberlin youth, which he founded in 1971, as well as the generations of Oberlin students, faculty, and community members who look to him as professor, advisor, mentor, and friend.
Peek began teaching at Oberlin in 1970. He has offered courses in secondary education and for supervising student teachers. His signature course, Education in the Black Community, gave students the opportunity to present and defend papers on how they would solve the problems of racism, poverty, and related issues.
In his teaching, Peek has focused on the “3Gs”—the greatest good, the greatest number, and the greatest period of time. His aim is to use education to ensure that the lives of African Americans, as well as the poor and disadvantaged, become as rewarding in all respects as those of the best educated and wealthiest, no matter where they may exist in the world.
Peek grew up in racially segregated Jacksonville, Florida. He entered Oberlin’s former Master of Teaching program in the summer of 1964. At Oberlin, he studied for the first time with white students and white professors. As a PhD student in the nearly all-white University of Florida, he led demonstrations seeking the employment of black faculty and the enrollment of more black students. He was barely a year into the program when Oberlin invited him to interview for a position in its education department.
In 1971, the year Peek began teaching at Oberlin, he created WAVE, a summer program that continues to flourish. WAVE is an academic program aimed at some of the Oberlin area’s most at-risk children, but which also offers a curriculum that challenges advanced children. He also has taken on special projects, such as the Transession Program, a summer program he devised for 10 financially needy black students who wanted help with math before beginning their first year at Oberlin College.
Peek chaired the Black Studies Program, now the Africana studies department, and was its chair when the program gained departmental status in the 1980s. He was a member of the college’s Educational Plans and Policies Committee and chaired the Special Educational Opportunities Committee. He was a founding member of the Association for Black Concerns and a member of the Admissions Committee, Upward Bound Committee, Curriculum Committee for Oberlin Board of Education, and Multicultural Committee.
An Oberlin resident, he and his wife, Annette, are the parents of three adult children.
Civil Rights Litigator, Distinguished Professor of Law
An Oberlin native and 1959 graduate of Oberlin High School, William Robinson ’63 is a renowned civil rights litigator and founding dean of the District of Columbia School of Law and the University of the District of Columbia School of Law.
At Oberlin, Robinson served on the college’s Board of Trustees for 18 years. In 2003, he endowed the Grady J. and Trevesta P. Robinson Endowed Scholarship in honor of his parents. The scholarship provides financial aid to academically and financially deserving Oberlin College students. In 2011, an innovative program that offers full tuition for graduates of Oberlin High School became an endowed scholarship named in his honor.
After graduating from Oberlin College in 1963, Robinson earned a law degree at Columbia University School of Law in 1966. While at Columbia, Robinson spent substantial time in the South doing legal research on voting rights and sit-in demonstration cases. As executive director of the Law Student Civil Rights Research Council, he met with southern civil rights lawyers and assigned northern law school students to work under their supervision.
Beginning in 1967, Robinson litigated civil rights cases for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, including public accommodations, school desegregation, public housing, and employment discrimination. As director of the fund’s employment discrimination practice, and as first assistant counsel, he and his team won more than 25 federal appellate cases that essentially rewrote the procedural requirements of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so that laypersons could effectively bring employment discrimination claims under the statute.
Robinson also played a primary role in taking before the U.S. Supreme Court two cases that for the first time gave substantive definition to Title VII and lay the foundation for civil rights discrimination claims. As counsel of record, Robinson presented argument to the Supreme Court in Phillips v. Martin Marietta Corp., the court's first Title VII case. He persuaded the court to hold that an employer may not refuse to hire a woman simply because she has preschool-age children.
During the Ronald Reagan administration, Robinson was a key player in the coalition of civil rights advocates that persuaded Congress to pass 19 civil rights statutes, representing more civil rights legislation than at any other time in the nation’s history. One of his proudest achievements is having represented the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Helms v. SCLC. The case rebuffed former Sen. Jesse Helms’ efforts to make public the spurious FBI wiretap tapes of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and prevented the senator from derailing the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Holiday Bill.
In 2007, Robinson was honored with the University of the District of Columbia's Distinguished Leadership Award, which recognizes members of the university community whose life work exemplifies outstanding leadership. He is currently Distinguished Professor of Law at District of Columbia School of Law.