Summer 2004 Vol. II, Nos 3 and 4
 From the Editors
 To the Editors
 AUB News
 Campaign Update
 Behold Beirut Architecture’s
 New Frontier
 The Post-AUB Architectural Life
 An Exact Type
 Architecture and Graphic Design
 Students “JAM”
 Shaping the Landscape of Lebanon
 Blueprint in Action
 Commencement 2004
 Honorary Degrees 2004
 Young Lebanese Musicians Learn
 Lessons from the Master
 More than a Stamp of Approval: AUB
 Receives Accreditation
 Alumni Profile
 Alumni Activities
 AUB Reflections
 Class Notes
 In Memoriam
 Previous Issues

Honorary Degrees 2004

Profiling the exceptional group of men honored at AUB’s honorary degree ceremony this year.

An unprecedented musical event marked the 2004 honorary degree ceremony held in the Assembly Hall on Commencement Day. As soon as Provost Peter Heath had placed the red and white hood of AUB’s Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters on the shoulders of Yo-Yo Ma, perhaps the greatest cellist of all time, the youthful musician defied tradition and offered his acceptance through music, rather than words. “I know I was not invited here because of my speaking ability,” he said. As if by magic, Ma’s beautiful cello appeared from backstage; he picked up his bow, and suddenly the former chapel rang with the deep tones of the Sarabande from J. S. Bach’s Third Suite for Cello.

Three other distinguished men were honored at this year’s ceremony: world-renowned mathematician Sir Michael Atiyah; educator, academic, and philanthropist Vartan Gregorian; and long-time anchor and senior editor of ABC’s World News Tonight, Peter Jennings.

This year’s candidates share not only eminence in their own fields; each has also moved seamlessly into prominence in related areas as well. Sir Michael Atiyah worked in complicated, esoteric fields in mathematics, winning the equivalent of two Nobel prizes (there is no Nobel prize for mathematics) for his work on the Atiyah-Singer index theorem, but he has also made his mark as an anti-nuclear and anti-war protestor.  He said, “Scientists must acquire a social conscience and concern themselves actively with the political process in so far as this relates to the use and misuse of science.” As president of the international Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs from 1997 to 2002, he urged scientists “to speak out openly and freely, to criticize the establishment when necessary, and to demonstrate that independence of thought really is the hallmark of the scientist.”

Vartan Gregorian, beginning his professional career as a university professor, moved easily through various corridors of academia throughout the course of his career, combining administrative duties with teaching, first at the University of Texas and then at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was appointed provost. Serving next as president of the New York Public Library, he won over the initially wary librarians by convincing them they were all educators together. At both the library and at Brown University, where he was president from 1989 to 1997, Gregorian had unprecedented success as a fundraiser, which moved him effortlessly into the presidency of the Carnegie Corporation.

Peter Jennings, popular TV anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight, has reported from all the major hotspots of the world (he was in the Jordanian desert with one of the first hi-jacked planes and at the fall of the Berlin Wall). But he has also focused on programs for children, social analyses, and most recently on thought-provoking biographies of religious figures—Jesus and the Apostle Paul.

World-renowned Yo-Yo Ma has made perhaps the largest crossing of borders. He has traveled beyond the corpus of classical composition to embrace bluegrass, Appalachian music, and the rhythms of Latin America. In 1998 he journeyed even farther afield when he launched his Silk Road Project to explore the flow of different cultures along the Silk Road—the historic trade route that once connected the peoples and traditions of Asia with those of Europe—through organizing concerts with Silk Road musicians.

Indicative of their shared crossing of boundaries, each of the four candidates has a unique relationship with Lebanon and the Arab world. Sir Michael was born of a Lebanese father and a Scottish mother, and is heir to illustrious ancestors:  his grandfather Selim, a former AUB medical student, and his great-grandfather, scholar and writer Yusef Atiyah. Vartan Gregorian completed his secondary education in Beirut, and after earning his PhD degree at Stanford, he considered applying to teach at AUB, but there were no lines open then in the Department of History. In 1972 Peter Jennings established the first television news bureau in the Middle East as ABC News bureau chief in Beirut and has since reported from all areas of the Arab world and beyond. Yo-Yo Ma’s connection with Lebanon and the Middle East is more tenuous, but in ancient times, one of the stops on the Silk Road route was the Mediterranean city of Tyre.

Each of the four candidates wove praise for AUB into their acceptance speeches. Sir Michael described the University as a “beacon of enlightenment in this troubled part of the world.” Citing his involvement in setting up the Center for Advanced Mathematics (he is a member of its International Advisory Committee), he said, “I hope the center will be one of the ways AUB will maintain and enhance its position as the leading educational establishment in the Middle East… A great past deserves a great future.”

Vartan Gregorian named the University as “one of the few oases in the Middle East that has chosen academic freedom, intellectual freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and above all else, excellence in everything it does” and added that AUB serves “as a bridge between the Middle East and the rest of the world.”


The admiration of Peter Jennings for AUB is deeply personal. He talked about the profound effect that coming to know faculty members, students, and the campus thirty years ago had on the development of his own knowledge and understanding of the Middle East. He recalled how he and fellow journalist, John Chancellor, a former member of AUB’s International Advisory Board,  which Jennings now serves on, would take refuge in the beauty of the campus when depressed by the worsening situation of Lebanon’s war years. In his opinion, AUB was “one great thing the United States did in the Middle East.”

Yo-Yo Ma, before taking up his cello, dedicated his performance to AUB: “I’d love to play it as an offering to the amazing history and accomplishment of AUB . . . not only as an offering, but also as a wish for the vision and courage and wisdom that we all collectively need to continue with the work that lies ahead.”

At the small reception held outside the Assembly Hall following the ceremony, many people flocked around the popular and charismatic candidates, snapping photos and collecting autographs in their Honorary Doctorates brochures. “It was wonderful,” said one staff member. “I got all four autographs twice—in two separate brochures!”