Five to receive honorary degrees at 149th Commencement

Washington University in St. Louis will award five honorary degrees during the university’s 149th Commencement May 21.

During the ceremony, which will begin at 8:30 a.m. in Brookings Quadrangle, WUSTL also will bestow more than 2,800 academic degrees on more than 2,700 students.

Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate, U.S. Secretary of Energy and a strong advocate for alternative energy sources, will deliver the Commencement address and receive an honorary doctor of science degree.

The other honorary degree recipients and their degrees are:

  • Brian J. Druker, MD, director of the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) Knight Cancer Institute and the JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research, doctor of science.
  • Joanne Knight, an active St. Louis community leader, volunteer and generous philanthropist, doctor of humanities;
  • Richard A. Roloff, Washington University alumnus and special assistant to the chancellor, doctor of laws; and
  • Nelson S. “Strobe” Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and former deputy secretary of state from 1994-2001, doctor of laws.

Chu won the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics with William Phillips and Claude Cohen-Tannoudji for developing a method to use laser beams and extreme cold to stop single atoms in their tracks, allowing them to be studied in greater detail.

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He has devoted his recent scientific career to the search for new solutions to energy challenges and stopping global climate change.

Chu, who was sworn in as the nation’s 12th U.S. Secretary of Energy on Jan. 21, 2009, is charged with helping implement President Barack Obama’s agenda to invest in alternative and renewable energy, end the nation’s addiction to foreign oil, address the global climate crisis and create millions of new jobs.

Prior to his Cabinet-level appointment, Chu was director since 2004 of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where he successfully led its pursuit of new alternative and renewable energies. He also was a professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Chu was born in St. Louis in 1948 while his father taught chemical engineering at Washington University.

After attending high school in New Jersey, he earned both a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and in physics from the University of Rochester in 1970. He earned his doctorate in physics in 1976 from the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked first as a postdoctoral fellow and then as an assistant professor.

He left in the fall of 1978 to pursue a career at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories. It was at Bell Labs that he did the work with laser cooling that later would win him the Nobel Prize.

Chu left Bell labs in 1987 to join Stanford University’s faculty. While at Stanford, he expanded his research interests to include polymer physics and biophysics.

Druker, who also is a professor of medicine at OHSU, has set a goal to make Oregon’s death rate from cancer the nation’s lowest.

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Early in his career, Druker thought there had to be a better way to treat cancer. He was inspired by his patients to develop a better treatment for chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), which strikes about 5,000 people a year.

Druker identified a promising anti-cancer compound that killed CML cells by turning off the signal from the abnormal cancer-causing protein. From this, he developed a cancer drug more than 10 years ago that has revolutionized cancer research and treatment.

The drug, Gleevec, attacks the enzyme that causes overproduction of white blood cells in CML while leaving healthy cells unharmed. Gleevec has helped to boost the five-year survival rate of CML patients from 50 percent to nearly 90 percent.

Gleevec is now FDA-approved to treat seven different cancers.

“We are on the cusp of turning cancer into a manageable disease,” Druker says.

A Minnesota native, Druker earned a bachelor’s degree and a medical degree from the University of California, San Diego. He completed a residency at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital and then completed an oncology fellowship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He was an instructor at Harvard Medical School before joining OHSU in 1993.

Druker, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, has received numerous awards for his work, among them the American Cancer Society’s Medal of Honor and the Lasker-DeBakey Award for Clinical Medical Research, widely regarded as the most prestigious medical research award in the United States and often foreshadows future recognition by the Nobel Prize committee.

Knight has focused much of her energy supporting three community organizations and institutions: the St. Louis chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Central Institute for the Deaf (CID) and Washington University.

Knight Download hi-res image

Knight’s devotion to the Alzheimer’s Association grew from her experience with the disease, which afflicted her late mother in the 1980s. For nearly two decades, Knight has been active in the St. Louis chapter as a volunteer, advisory board member and director, including serving a term as president.

She has been a member of CID’s board of directors for 26 years, including serving as board vice president, chairman of the Scholarship Committee and a member of the Nominating and Executive committees and supporting fundraising.

The CID created the Joanne Parrish Knight Family Center in recognition of her contributions and efforts.

Knight and her husband, Charles F. Knight, former chief executive officer of Emerson for 27 years and now chairman emeritus, also have established a strong philanthropic legacy at Washington University through the Joanne Knight Breast Health Center and Breast Cancer Program at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the School of Medicine; the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professorship in Orthopaedic Surgery at the School of Medicine; and the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Directorship in Executive Education at the Olin Business School.

Joanne Knight is a charter member of Siteman’s Community Advisory Board, and she has served on WUSTL’s School of Art National Council.

Her many contributions to the community were recognized when she was named a Woman of Achievement by the Suburban Journals and KMOX Radio in 1987 and the Variety Club Woman of the Year in 1997.

Roloff used his experience in commercial real estate development and finance to transform and modernize the Danforth and Medical campuses during the past 20 years.

While executive vice chancellor from 1991-2006, Roloff led WUSTL’s administrative areas — from finance and investments to landscaping and facilities maintenance — as well as construction and renovation efforts on university buildings.

Roloff’s achievements include spearheading the construction of McDonnell Hall, Goldfarb Hall, Anheuser-Busch Hall, the Charles F. Knight Executive Education Center, the Psychology Building, the Arts & Sciences Laboratory Science Building, Uncas A. Whitaker Hall, the Earth and Planetary Sciences Building, residential colleges on the South 40, The Village housing and the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts buildings.

He also led the renovation of Brookings Hall, Duncker Hall, Eads Hall and Holmes Lounge. Roloff also was active in the revitalization of the Central West End through his support and leadership as a volunteer in the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corp.

In 2006, he became vice chancellor for capital projects and oversaw the planning, cost and completion of Seigle Hall, the Danforth University Center and the second phase of the Snow Way Garage.

In 2008, he was appointed special assistant to Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, providing guidance to Wrighton and his senior leadership team on capital projects and real estate matters.

Roloff, a St. Louis native, earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from WUSTL in 1951. After graduation, Roloff joined the U.S. Coast Guard and operated a single-family home construction business in Texas.

In 1973, he became president of Capitol Land Co., a St. Louis real estate development company. He served on the WUSTL Board of Trustees from 1985-1991.

Talbott, whose career spans journalism, government service and academe, is an expert on U.S. foreign policy, with specialties on Europe, Russia, South Asia and nuclear arms control.

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As deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, Talbott was deeply involved in both the conduct of U.S. policy abroad and the management of executive branch relations with Congress.

Talbott entered government service after 21 years with TIME magazine. As a reporter, he covered Eastern Europe, the State Department and the White House.

He was TIME’s diplomatic correspondent from 1977-1984, Washington bureau chief from 1984-89 and editor-at-large and foreign affairs columnist from 1989-1992.

Talbott twice won the Edward Weintal Prize for distinguished reporting on foreign affairs and diplomacy. His contributions also were cited in three Overseas Press Club Awards to TIME.

Before becoming president in July 2002 of the Brookings Institution, a highly respected public policy research organization, Talbott served as founding director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

Prior to that, he had served in the State Department from 1993-2001, first as ambassador-at-large and special adviser to the secretary of state for the new independent states of the former Soviet Union, then as deputy secretary of state for seven years.

Talbott is the author of a number of books on diplomacy, U.S.-Soviet relations and U.S.-Soviet arms control. His most recent work, The Great Experiment: The Story of Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation, combines historical and political analysis with personal reflection on efforts to forge a peaceful community of nations.

In 2009, he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.