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Musician, judge, and plant geneticist to receive honorary degrees

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At this spring’s Commencement ceremony, Interim President Constance Hungerford will bestow honorary degrees on an esteemed musician and educator, a Delaware Supreme Court Justice and a renowned plant geneticist.

John Alston, the founding director of the Chester Children’s Chorus, will receive one such degree from Swarthmore, a Doctor of Arts. Until the end of the spring of 2013, Alston was also an assistant professor of music at the college, conducting the college chorus, jazz ensemble and orchestra, and teaching a class in jazz improvisation. He also founded the Chester Fund for Education and the Arts, a nonprofit organization in Chester committed to granting educational and artistic opportunities to the city’s children.

Molly Miller Jahn ’80 will receive a Doctor of Sciences for her work in the field of plant genetics. Jahn has been recognized at state, federal and international levels for her work both as a  professor and former dean of Wisconsin’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and director of the Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station. Jahn served as the deputy and acting under secretary of research, education and economics at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and was chosen to represent the U.S. on the international Commission for Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change. Jahn holds over 60 active commercial licenses from her plant-breeding programs and recently co-authored “The Role of Biotechnology in a Sustainable Food Supply.”

Randy J. Holland ’69 will receive a Doctor of Laws to commend his lifetime of public service on the Delaware Supreme Court. In 2011, he was appointed to a third term by Governor Jack Markell, and continues to serve the state as a judge today. In addition to his judicial responsibilities, Holland serves on the national Advisory Committee to the Center for Judicial Ethics of the National Center for State Courts. Over the course of his career, he has received a number of awards and accolades, including the 1992 Judge of the Year Award from the National Child Support Enforcement Association. He has been the author, co-author or editor of nine books, and currently serves as an adjunct professor at Widener University School of Law, Iowa School of Law, Vanderbilt School of Law and the University of Washington in St. Louis.

Holland said in a phone call that he was unaware he was even being considered for the honorary degree until he was contacted by President Hungerford.

“President Hungerford called me on the phone to tell me. It was quite a surprise, and overwhelming. I never dreamed anything like this would ever happen, so, you know, it left me quite speechless,” Holland said. When asked about how his time at Swarthmore influenced his work, he noted that the college encouraged his interest in national politics, global politics, the public good and a general inclination toward helpfulness.  He also cited Swarthmore as an influence in his eventual desire to go into public service and step out of private practice.

Holland said that the a liberal arts education, with an emphasis on reading and writing, was a natural fit for being a Supreme Court justice. When asked to choose whether the Supreme Court or Swarthmore was more difficult, Holland said that he had to get used to both places.

Holland also noted the special significance that an honorary degree from his alma mater would have on his life and his career.

“I would say this honorary degree is particularly meaningful to me coming from Swarthmore and I think with Swarthmore’s reputation for excellence … other people will realize [it] is very significant, beyond being significant to me,” he said.

The process for selecting the recipients of an honorary degree typically involves an extensive committee review process, lead by either the president or the provost. Honorary degrees are typically awarded to individuals who are recognized by the college for a lifetime of achievement and service in a particular discipline.

Holland, Jahn and Alston will receive their honorary degrees at the College’s 143rd Commencement in the Scott Amphitheater this coming May.

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