Baccalaureate 2017: A Talk by Honorary Degree Recipient Hanna Holborn Gray

Hanna Holborn Gray, president emeritus of the University of Chicago and 2017 Bowdoin Honorand, gave the keynote at this year’s Baccalaureate ceremony. A refugee from Nazi German who arrived in the US with her family when she was just four years old, Gray went on to become an acclaimed historian and a pioneering figure in the higher education field.

She was the first woman to be full president of a major university in the United States, and held that position from 1978 to 1993, after having served as interim president of Yale University for fourteen months (1977-78).Gray is also the University of Chicago’s Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of History.

She graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1950, was a Fulbright Scholar at Oxford, and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1957. In addition to her roles at the University of Chicago, Gray’s distinguished career as a scholar of humanism, political and historical thought, and the history and politics of the Renaissance and Reformation has earned her faculty positions at Harvard, Northwestern University, and Yale.

An outstanding leader and administrator, Gray also has been a director, board member, or trustee of many institutions, including the Harvard Corporation, Yale Corporation, Smithsonian Institution, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Council on Foreign Relations, Mayo Clinic, Brookings Institution, Newberry Library, JP Morgan Chase, and Bryn Mawr College.

Gray also served as the board chair for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the second-largest foundation in America. In 1986, she received a Medal of Liberty award from President Ronald Reagan; in 1991, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President George H. W. Bush. Gray delivered the keynote address at the inauguration of Clayton Rose as fifteenth president of Bowdoin College.

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