Four to receive honorary degrees at Williams’ 235th commencement.

Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Lonnie G. Bunch III will be the principal speaker at Williams College’s 235th Commencement Exercise on Sunday, June 2, 2024. The day before, Siddhartha Mukherjee, a pioneering physician, oncologist and award-winning author, will deliver the college’s Baccalaureate lecture. Liz Robinson ’90, chair of the Williams College Board of Trustees who also serves as director and advisor to for-profit and nonprofit organizations around the country, and Rick Trainor, rector of Exeter College at the University of Oxford, will each receive honorary degrees during the Commencement ceremony.

Headshot photo of Lonnie Bunch

Lonnie Bunch III

Lonnie G. Bunch III is the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, where he oversees 21 museums, 21 libraries, the National Zoo, numerous research centers and several education units and centers. He was previously founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, a position he assumed before the museum site had been chosen. He has been named one of the 100 most influential museum professionals of the 20th century by the American Association of Museums.

A widely published author, Bunch has written on topics including the Black military experience, the American presidency and African American history in California, diversity in museum management and the impact of funding and politics on American museums. 

Bunch has previously served in various roles at major museums and historical institutions, produced historical documentaries for public television and taught at American University, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and George Washington University, among other institutions. President George W. Bush appointed him to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House and he was later reappointed by President Barack Obama. He is a recipient of the Roosevelt Institute’s Freedom Medal for contributions to American culture as a historian and storyteller; the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal from the Hutchins Center at Harvard University; and the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund’s National Equal Justice Award. The Society of American Historians awarded him its Tony Horwitz Prize honoring distinguished work in American history of wide appeal and enduring public significance, and its David McCullough Award for outstanding work in public history. Other honors include lifetime achievement awards from both the American Alliance of Museums and the African American Association of Museums, and the Congressional Black Caucus’s Chairman’s Award. In 2021, the French government awarded Bunch the Legion of Honor, the country’s highest honor.

Photo of Siddhartha Mukherjee leaning against a doorway

Siddhartha Mukherjee

Siddhartha Mukherjee is a pioneering physician, oncologist, and author who has redefined our public discourse on human health, medicine and science. An influential voice in the scientific community, he is best known for his books, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which earned him the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, and The Gene: An Intimate History, which won international awards and was recognized by The Washington Post and The New York Times as one of the most influential books of 2016. The Emperor of All Maladies has been adapted into a documentary by filmmaker Ken Burns, and was included among Time magazine’s 100 best nonfiction books of the past century. Exploring the essence of humanity, The Song of the Cell, his third title, became a New York Times best seller.

Dr. Mukherjee’s achievements as a writer and educator build upon his career as a renowned medical scholar. His groundbreaking studies into the composition and behavior of cancer cells have pushed the boundaries of modern medicine. His innovative research signals a paradigm shift in cancer pathology, and has enabled the development of treatments that reach beyond current pharmaceutical models toward new biological and cellular therapies. Serving as a professor of medicine at Columbia University and as a staff cancer physician at the university’s medical center, Dr. Mukherjee has brought hope to patients and families around the world, while revolutionizing society’s blueprint for healing. He writes for the New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine and many other publications, has received numerous awards for his scientific work, has published his original research and opinions in journals such Nature, Cell and the New England Journal of Medicine. He lives in New York City with his wife and daughters.

Headshot photo of Liz Robinson '90.

Elizabeth (Liz) Beshel Robinson ’90

Liz Robinson is the chair of the Williams College Board of Trustees. A native of Chicago, she applied to Williams after seeing a reference to the Williams-Amherst rivalry in Amherst’s recruitment materials. Making the right choice, she attended Williams and majored in economics, served as a Junior Advisor and sampled a wide variety of courses, discovering a passion for art history in the process.

After graduation she joined the financial institutions group in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs, earning an MBA from Columbia University’s Executive MBA Program at the same time. She later transferred to the firm’s corporate treasury department and was named global treasurer in 2005, and partner a year later. During this time she was an integral part of the team that executed Goldman’s IPO and navigated the company through the 2008 global financial crisis. She also recruited many Williams graduates into the company before retiring from Goldman in 2016. 

Robinson now serves as director and advisor to for-profit and nonprofit organizations around the country. She sits on the boards of The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation and The Travelers Companies, as well as Every Mother Counts, Blair Academy in New Jersey, and St. Luke’s University Health Network in Pennsylvania. 

At Williams, in addition to her board service, Robinson was a member of the presidential search committee that selected President Mandel in 2018 and has been an important volunteer as associate agent for the Class of 1990 and committee member for that class’s 25th Reunion Fund.

Photo of Rick Trainor seated at a table with hands folded.

Rick Trainor

Professor Sir Rick Trainor is Rector (equivalent of President) of Exeter College at the University of Oxford, where he is Williams’ chief partner for the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford (WEPO). His scholarship focuses on the economic and social history of modern Britain and continental Europe, and has published extensively on the social history of British elites, especially the origins and impact of the leaders of industrial towns and cities. 

Trainor began his academic career at the University of Glasgow, where he was later appointed Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Vice Principal. He has also been Vice-Chancellor of the University of Greenwich and Principal and Professor of Social History at King’s College London, which established the Professor Sir Richard Trainor Postgraduate Research Scholarship in his honor. He has remained active in research during his administrative career, and served terms as president of the Economic History Society and chair of the Institute for Historical Research’s Advisory Committee.

Raised in New Jersey and Maryland, Trainor earned his undergraduate degree from Brown University. He was then a Rhodes Scholar, completing a second B.A. at Merton College Oxford. Subsequently he was a graduate student in history at Princeton and at Nuffield College Oxford, completing his doctorate in British social history at Oxford, where he was also a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College and a Lecturer at Balliol College.

Trainor is a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and the Royal Historical Society, and past president of Universities UK, the organization representing the heads of all universities in the United Kingdom. He is an honorary fellow of Merton College, Oxford; Trinity College of Music; the Royal Academy of Music; and the Institute of Historical Research, and a patron of the Anglo-American Fulbright Commission. He holds honorary degrees from the University of Kent, the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, the University of Glasgow and the University of Greenwich. He is a citizen of both the US and the UK.

Published March 13, 2024