Carnegie Mellon University
April 23, 2021

Announcing Commencement Honorary Degree Recipients and Student Speakers

Dear Members of the Carnegie Mellon University Community: 

I am pleased to announce that four distinguished individuals, including two alumni and scholars from the fields of science, philosophy and literature, will virtually receive honorary degrees and provide brief remarks at our in-person commencement ceremonies for master’s and doctoral degree candidates on Saturday, May 22, and for bachelor’s degree candidates on Sunday, May 23. Both ceremonies will begin at 11 a.m. ET in Gesling Stadium and will be livestreamed online for families, friends and the CMU community.

As many of you know, it is a Carnegie Mellon tradition to award honorary degrees at commencement to exemplary leaders, whose life and work serve as an inspiration for CMU students, faculty and staff. This year’s honorary degree recipients are: 

  • The Honorable France A. Córdova was the 14th director of the National Science Foundation, appointed by President Obama in 2014 to serve a six-year term that ended in 2020. An astrophysicist, Córdova was the first woman to serve as NASA’s chief scientist, and she also received the Distinguished Service Medal, NASA’s highest honor. She is president emerita of Purdue University and chancellor emerita of University of California, Riverside. Córdova has also served as chair of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. She will receive an honorary Doctor of Science and Technology. 
  • Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. An esteemed philosopher and author, Nussbaum has published over 20 books that reflect on human vulnerabilities and how to create a just society. Among her awards are the Berggruen Prize for Philosophy and Culture and the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy. She recently won the 2021 Holberg Prize. Nussbaum will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. 
  • Jewell P. Rhodes (DC 1975, 1976, 1979) is the Piper Endowed Chair and founding artistic director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University. A three-time CMU alumna, she is a New York Times bestselling author whose works for adults and children on topics of social justice, equality and environmental stewardship have garnered numerous awards, including a Jane Addams Peace Award and a Coretta Scott King Honor Award. Rhodes will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. 
  • Robert D. Summer (PM 1955), who graduated from CMU in 1955 with a degree in print management, joined RCA Records and rose to become president of RCA Records’ worldwide operations. While at RCA, Summer was elected chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America. He went on to become president of Sony Music International in 1987. A loyal supporter of CMU, he has lectured at the School of Music and is a member of the College of Fine Arts Dean’s Council. He was awarded the Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Summer will receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts. 

Student Speakers 

This year’s student speakers are Frank Avino, who is earning an MBA from the Tepper School of Business, and Maria Cristina Pullen, who is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in professional writing and international relations and politics from the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. 

  • Avino, who will give remarks during the graduate student ceremony on Saturday, May 22, was an information technology operations analyst for PepsiCo before joining the Tepper School. He was very active in the student community, serving as executive vice president of the Tepper Business and Technology Club, chair of the Graduate Business Association Wellness Committee, an advisory board member of the Tepper Consulting Club and a communication coach with the Accelerate Leadership Center. He received the Tepper School’s Arjun V. Gokhale Spirit Award. Avino will be joining Deloitte Consulting as a senior consultant in New York City. 
  • Pullen, who will graduate with Dean’s List High Honors, will address her classmates during the undergraduate student ceremony on Sunday, May 23. Pullen was vice president of the Panhellenic Council, a residential assistant for first-year gender-inclusive housing, a teaching assistant for the English Department and School of Computer Science, and an academic coach for Academic Development. She studied abroad in Poland and France, and spent a semester in Washington, D.C., as a Cynthia Friedman Fellow. Pullen recently received the Senior Leadership Award and was named an Andrew Carnegie Society Scholar. She will join Salesforce as a technical writer in San Francisco this summer. 

I invite you to learn more about the speakers, honorary degree recipients and commencement ceremonies online.  

I extend heartfelt congratulations in advance to the Class of 2021, a class that has persevered unlike any other, and to these deserving honorary degree recipients. 


Farnam Jahanian
Henry L. Hillman President’s Chair