Sharing Advice on Bettering Our World

By UM News

Sharing Advice on Bettering Our World

By UM News
Six extraordinary people will speak at the spring commencement exercises May 10-12 at the Watsco Center on the Coral Gables campus.

They may not be household names in the United States, but the six speakers who will share their wisdom with nearly 3,800 graduates during the University of Miami’s spring commencement ceremonies are extraordinary individuals who have spent their lives bettering our world.

Hailing from six countries, they include three glass-ceiling shattering women: a Norwegian doctor and an Irish lawyer who were the first female heads of state of their respective nations, and an undersea explorer who was the first woman to lead the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Academy of Sciences.

The other speakers, all men, are equally impressive in terms of their trailblazing experiences and accomplishments. Among them are a British doctor who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, an economist and philosopher who won a Nobel Prize for his work in welfare economics, and a Venezuelan television magnate whose gutsy genius unified 40 million Spanish-speakers in the United States and elevated Latin America’s profile.

Over three days and six ceremonies at the Watsco Center, each of these distinguished changemakers will receive honorary degrees from UM President Julio Frenk, beginning with:

Sir Michael Marmot at the Miller School of Medicine ceremony at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 10

Sir Michael MarmotThe immediate past president of the World Medical Association, Michael Marmot has been at the forefront of research into health inequities for more than 40 years. Knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2000 for his contributions to public health, he was principal investigator of the Whitehall Studies of British civil servants, which showed that health follows a social gradient—the lower a person’s status, the worse his or her health.

As chair of the World Health Organization’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health from 2005 to 2008, he led a global effort to improve and eradicate the causes of poor health. The commission’s work, presented in the report Closing the Gap in a Generation, found significant differences between countries, and within countries, including our own.

The author of The Health Gap: The Challenge of an Unequal World, Marmot is currently a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, which he chaired for 25 years, and an adjunct professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard University.


Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen at the Graduate School ceremony at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 11

Nobel Laureate Amartya SenThe recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences and the 2011 winner of the U.S. National Humanities Medal, Amartya Sen is perhaps best known for his pioneering work in welfare economics and social choice theory. His own boyhood observations of the Bengal, India, famine that killed as many as three million people—but only the poor—left an indelible impression that would inform his later work.

His 1981 book, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, showed that in many cases of famine, economic and social factors, not declining food supplies, lead to starvation. The author of numerous other books that have been translated into 30 languages, he also has made significant contributions to ethics and political philosophy, public health, gender studies, and assessment of the well-being of people in a society.

The son and grandson of academics who is also a former master of Trinity College, Sen was literally born on an academic campus and has been a professor at numerous colleges, including Oxford University, University of London, and the University of Delhi. The past president of the Econometric Society, the American Economic Association, the Indian Economic Association, and the International Economic Association, he is currently a professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University.


Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and chancellor of the University of Dublin, at the School of Law ceremony at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 11

Mary RobinsonWidely regarded as a transformative figure in Ireland, barrister Mary Robinson became Ireland’s first female president in 1990, fighting for equality and women’s rights and helping build Ireland’s modern image during her seven years in office.

She was the first Irish head of state to officially visit Britain, and in her quest to promote human rights, the first head of state to visit Somalia after its civil war and famine in 1992 and the first to visit Rwanda after its 1994 genocide. Before her term as president ended, she accepted the post of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, employing her powerful voice to investigate and expose human rights abuses across the world from 1997 to 2002.

Today Robinson, to whom President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, heads the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, a center for education and advocacy on sustainable and people-centered development in the world’s poorest communities, and serves as chancellor of University of Dublin. She is also a member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007 to promote peace and human rights.


Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister and former director-general of the World Health Organization, at the 8:30 a.m. ceremony on Friday, May 12, for the College of Arts and Sciences

Gro Harlem BrundtlandA founding member of The Elders, physician Gro Harlem Brundtland was working in Oslo for Norway’s public health service when she was offered the post of minister of the environment. Propelled by her belief that health and the environment are inextricably linked, she accepted, launching a remarkable career as a politician, environmentalist, peace builder, and health and human rights advocate.

 The first woman and youngest person to serve as Norway’s prime minister, she chaired the United Nation’s World Commission on the Environment and Development, which, known as the Brundtland Commission, coined the concept of sustainable development in its landmark report, Our Common Future.

During her tenure as director-general of the World Health Organization, she increased access to lifesaving drugs in poor countries, dramatically reduced the incidence of polio, halted the spread of the SARS virus, promoted awareness of the links between poverty and disease, addressed violence as a health issue, and negotiated an agreement on tobacco control—earning Scientific American’s recognition as “Policy Leader of the Year.” But perhaps her favorite title is the one Norwegians call her, “landsmoderen” or “mother of the nation.”


Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, at the 1 p.m. ceremony on Friday, May 12, for the School of Architecture, School of Communication, School of Education and Human Development, Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, and School of Nursing and Health Studies

Marcia McNutt Although Marcia McNutt was valedictorian of her high school class and earned perfect scores on her SATs, her college professor of physics, her chosen field of study, warned her she would fail. She went on to graduate summa cum laude, becoming a geophysicist, pioneering undersea explorer, and the first woman to head the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Academy of Sciences.

Appointed to the USGS in 2009 as part of President Obama’s “scientific dream team,’’ McNutt spent the next year adeptly dealing with major crises around the word—from earthquakes in Haiti and Chile to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that spewed millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. For that, she planned an overnight trip to Houston but stayed three months overseeing the scientists and engineers at BP headquarters who were working feverishly to estimate the volume of the spill and cap the blown-out well.

In 2013 she left the USGS to become the first female editor in chief of Science, the venerable journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where she founded the Science Advances, Science Immunology, and Science Robotics online journals.

Now, as president of the National Academy of Sciences, McNutt is committed to ensuring that the organization Congress established in 1863 continues providing “independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology”—and proving that she should never be underestimated.


Gustavo A. Cisneros, chairman of Cisneros, for the 5 p.m. ceremony at on Friday, May 12, for the School of Business Administration and College of Engineering

Gustavo A. CisnerosThe chairman of Cisneros, one of the largest, privately held media, entertainment, telecommunications, and consumer products organizations in the world, Gustavo A. Cisneros took a $500 million gamble in 1992 and bought the U.S.-based Spanish-language Univision network with two other investors.

Already owner of one of Venezuela’s leading television networks, the Caracas-born Cisneros was confident the type of programming he developed in Venezuela would thrive in America. He was right. The neutrally accented Spanish-language programs and shows Cisneros introduced helped unify the 40 million Spanish-speakers in the U.S. and made Univision a valuable business; in 2007 Cisneros and his group sold it for $12 billion.

Yet Cisneros, who is one of the richest men the world and, according to The New York Times, “one of Latin America’s most powerful figures,” eagerly shares his wisdom and leadership. He uses his power and wealth to enhance Latin America’s profile on the global stage, increasing its access to information and advancing its technological growth to promote education, democratic principles, and individual liberty across the region.

For more information about the commencement ceremonies, visit the Commencement homepage.