Lawrence Otis Graham ’83 speaks to graduates at the Pennsylvania State University at Abington May 17.
Penn State Abington/©2017 Dan Z. Johnson
Princetonians give advice to grads, receive honorary degrees

Commencement for Princeton’s Class of 2017 is still a few days away, but Princeton alumni and faculty have been active on the graduation circuit, sharing advice with collegians across the country and receiving honorary degrees.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito ’72, speaking to seminarians at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., promoted freedom of religion and the principle that “no one is forced to act in violation of his own beliefs,” according to He added that America’s founders “saw a vital connection between religion and the character needed for republican self-government.” 

Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80, president and CEO of New America and a former Woodrow Wilson School dean, stressed the need to take a fresh view of the world in her commencement address at Indiana University. “[L]et us revise our views of strength and weakness, higher and lower, and men and women,” she said. Slaughter, speaking about the role of education, added that being able to “understand the fullness of our own humanity” in turn allows us to connect with others.

Lawyer and author Lawrence Otis Graham ’83 delivered the commencement address at the Pennsylvania State University at Abington, telling graduates to resist the urge to “play it safe” in challenging times. “Push yourself to do something you have always wanted to try but that you backed away from simply because others said you would never succeed or because you weren’t 100 percent certain it would work,” Graham said.

Meg Whitman ’77, CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, spoke at Carnegie Mellon University, where she promoted openness to ideas that may challenge your own views. “Too many of us live in intellectual silos, where we seek out people and information that simply reinforces our existing opinions. Venture out of those silos,” she said. “Be the generation that embodies real tolerance, genuine inquiry, and authentic open-mindedness.”

Other Princetonians delivering commencement speeches or receiving honorary degrees include:

Frances Arnold ’79, a professor at the California Institute of Technology and leader in the field of protein engineering — Dartmouth College

Norman Augustine ’57 *59, former Lockheed Martin CEO — Harvard University

Jonathan Blodgett ’76, the district attorney for Essex County, Mass — Endicott College

Bill Bradley ’65, former U.S. senator and basketball hall-of-famer — Maryville College

Taylor Branch *70, author of the “America in the King Years” trilogy, a narrative history of the civil rights era — Emory University

Robert Darnton, the Shelby Cullom Davis ’30 Professor of European History, emeritus — University of Oxford

Alice Gast *84, the president of Imperial College London — University of Notre Dame

J. Robert Hillier ’59 *61, an architect and founder of Studio Hillier in Princeton — New Jersey Institute of Technology

Thomas Kean ’57, former governor of New Jersey — Raritan Valley (N.J.) Community College

Paul Muldoon, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and the Howard G. B. Clark ’21 Professor at Princeton — University of Pennsylvania

Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and current Charles and Marie Robertson Visiting Professor at the Woodrow Wilson School — Columbia University

Nancy A. Nasher ’76, a business leader, lawyer, and philanthropist in the Dallas area — Southern Methodist University

John Ochsendorf *98, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the American Academy in Rome — Davis & Elkins College

H. Vincent Poor *77, a former dean of engineering at Princeton — Syracuse University

Michael Rabin *57, a computer science professor at Harvard — Harvard University

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African American Studies — Hampshire College