Press Release: Morris Dickstein to Speak at 2010 Graduate Center Commencement Honorary Degrees to Paquito D’Rivera and Richard Sloan

Time and Place:

June 2, 6 p.m., Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza (Columbus Avenue & 65th Street), Manhattan. Attendance is by invitation only.


Morris Dickstein, eminent cultural historian, Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center. “One of our best and most distinguished critics of American literature"—Norman Mailer.

Honorary Degrees:  
Doctor of Musical Arts
to Paquito D’Rivera, multi-instrumentalist, conductor, and composer, whose extraordinary career has influenced American music across Latin, jazz, and classical genres.

Doctor of Humane Letters to Richard Sloan, renowned psychiatric researcher of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Student Speaker:

María Elena Torre, Ph.D. in Social-Personality Psychology


410 Doctorates and 50 Master's degrees to be awarded.

Featured Graduate:
Alex Pyron,
an evolutionary biologist who earned his Ph.D. at age 21.
(See below for further background on participants and the featured graduate.)

Participant Bios:

Morris Dickstein -- Commencement Speaker

Morris Dickstein, Distinguished Professor of English and Theatre at the Graduate Center -- “one of the foremost cultural historians in the United States” (Forbes) -- is author of the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award-nominated Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression. Dickstein’s eclectic style of criticism -- analyzing politics, history, and popular culture alongside literary works -- have made him a versatile and sought-after commentator in the media on various topics in 20th-century American culture. His other books include Gates of Eden: American Culture in the Sixties; Leopards in the Temple: The Transformation of American Fiction, 1945-1970; The Mirror in the Roadway: Literature in the Real World; and Double Agent: The Critic and Society. Dickstein was also formerly editor of The Partisan Review and a founding member of the National Book Critics Circle. He has published many essays and reviews in The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, The Nation, Times Literary Supplement, and other periodicals. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University.

Paquito D’Rivera -- Doctor of Musical Arts
Born in Havana, Cuba, Paquito D’Rivera was a child prodigy who played the clarinet, saxophone, and performed with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra at a very early age.   He was a founding member of the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna and directed that group, while playing with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra. His ensemble Irakere toured throughout America and Europe and won a Grammy in 1979 for the best Latin Jazz Ensemble. In 1981, D’Rivera sought asylum in the U.S. Since then, he has received wide acclaim as an instrumentalist and composer, with a discography of over 24 solo albums demonstrating his abilities in Bebop, classical, and Latin/Caribbean music. D’Rivera won a Grammy in 1996 for Portraits of Cuba, and, among many other Grammys received since then, he was the first artist to win in both the classical and Latin jazz categories, in 2003. His other honors include the National Medal of the Arts and the Annual Achievement Award of the Hispanic Academy of Media Arts and Sciences. Last December, the DownBeat Readers Poll voted him Best Clarinetist for the third year in a row.

Dr. Richard P. Sloan -- Doctor of Humane Letters
Dr. Richard P. Sloan is the Nathaniel Wharton Professor of Behavioral Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, and chief, Division of Behavioral Medicine, New York State Psychiatric Institute. His principal work focuses on identifying the autonomic nervous system mechanisms linking psychological risk factors such as depression, hostility, and anxiety to heart disease. In addition, Dr. Sloan and colleagues have explored and criticized the purported links between religion, spirituality, and health that have appeared in popular and medical publications. Born in Newark, New Jersey, he received his B.S. from Union College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the New School for Social Research. He is the recipient of many honors and awards including and the Steven M. Kellen Distinguished Visitor Award of the American Academy in Berlin. Dr. Sloan is the author of many articles and publications. His most recent book is Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine.
Featured Graduate:
Alex Pyron -- Ph.D. in Biology

At an age when most students are finishing college and considering graduate school, Alex Pyron will receive his Ph.D. in Biology. In addition, the 22-year-old Georgia native, whose field is evolutionary biology, has already been working as an NSF Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at SUNY–Stony Brook (he qualified for his Ph.D. last fall when he was 21) and recently accepted a faculty position at George Washington University.

How did this happen so fast?

“I went to public school in Georgia until fourth grade,” says Pyron, “but I didn’t find it very engaging.” His mother decided to home-school him for two years, after which Pyron took the ACT and scored well enough to enter Georgia’s Piedmont College at the age of 12, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology at 16.

Looking at prospective graduate schools, Pyron contacted Professor Frank Burbrink of the Graduate Center’s Ph.D. Program in Biology, whose lab is based at the College of Staten Island and whose research focuses on the phylogenetics of snakes, reptiles, and amphibians.

Burbrink’s lab was a perfect fit. “I was extremely excited to be accepted at CUNY, as I knew that was where I really wanted to do my graduate work,” Pyron says. So a 17-year-old from rural Georgia headed to New York City to study his passion, snakes.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know I wanted to work with snakes,” he says.

In research for his thesis, Systematics and Historical Biogeography of the Lampropeltinine Snakes, Pyron found that the biodiversity of these types of snakes is greater in temperate North America than in the tropics—the opposite of which is true for most animals. He has also studied the evolutionary patterns of non-venomous snakes that mimic venomous snakes.

Next January, Pyron will become the Robert F. Griggs Assistant Professor of Biology at George Washington University, which runs a graduate program in his field of systematics and evolution jointly with the Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian. There, he will be on the fast track to becoming one of the nation’s leading herpetologists, and perhaps the youngest.

Submitted on: MAY 1, 2010

Category: Press Room