Commencement 2009

10,000th Graduate Center Doctorate Awarded, First Recipient Honored

Honorary Degrees Given to Lena Horne and Roger Hertog

James Oakes, Award-Winning Historian of Lincoln and American Slavery, Was Speaker

Time and Place:

11 a.m., Thursday, May 28, 2009, Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza (Columbus Avenue & 65th Street).

A Milestone Commencement:

This year, the Graduate Center awarded its 10,000th Doctorate. Daniel Robinson, a philosophy professor at Oxford University who was the first to receive a Graduate Center doctoral degree in 1965, returned to be honored and to hood Kristen Case, this year’s student speaker who represented the 10,000th recipient.

Historical context:
At the first commencement, there were two Ph.D.s given out: one to Barbara Stern (English) and one to Daniel Robinson (Psychology). By alphabetical order, Robinson was the first to receive a diploma, though the degrees were technically awarded simultaneously, when the faculty voted to accept the candidates. Another distinguished alum, Stern was a professor at Rutgers for many years; she died this past January.


James Oakes, Distinguished Professor of History at the Graduate Center; leading historian of 19th-century America and co-recipient of the 2008 Lincoln Prize for his book The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics.

Commencement Address

Honorary Degrees & Awards:

Doctor of Humane Letters to Lena Horne, legendary actor, singer, and civil rights activist.

Doctor of Humane Letters to Roger Hertog, influential philanthropist in the arts, culture, and education.

President’s Distinguished Alumni Medal to Daniel Robinson, scholar renowned for his work in philosophy and psychology.


410 Doctorates and 39 Master's degrees awarded.

Participant Bios:

James Oakes -- Commencement Speaker
James Oakes, Distinguished Professor of History at the Graduate Center and holder of the Humanities Chair, is one of the leading historians of nineteenth-century America. His early work focused on the South, examining slavery as an economic and social system that shaped Southern life. His more recent work examines antislavery thinking in the North and the political processes that led to emancipation. His books include The Ruling Race: A History of American Slaveholders and Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South. In 2008, he was awarded the Lincoln Prize, one of the most generous and prestigious awards in the field of American history, for his book The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics.

Lena Horne -- Doctor of Humane Letters
Performing artist Lena Mary Calhoun Horne made her stage, recording, and movie debuts in the 1930s. She soon became an international star in all media, maintaining her career while facing discrimination personally and professionally. She won three Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award, and a Tony Award for her one-woman show. She is also the winner of an NAACP Image Award; a Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award; American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Awards; Drama Desk Awards; and New York Drama Critics Circle Awards. A tireless fundraiser for civil rights causes and an advocate for racial integration, Ms. Horne was a pivotal figure in the twentieth-century struggle for racial equality and social justice.

Roger Hertog -- Doctor of Humane Letters
Businessman Roger Hertog, an alumnus of City College, is a supporter of the arts, culture, and education in New York City. He has served on the Board of Directors of the New-York Historical Society since 2003 and has been chairman since 2007. He is also on the Board of Directors of the New York Philharmonic and the Board of Trustees of the New York Public Library. His interests extend to publishing, and he was co-owner of both The New Republic and the New York Sun. Since retiring as vice chairman of the board of Alliance Bernstein in 2006, Mr. Hertog has turned his attention to philanthropy, and in 2007, he was awarded a National Humanities Medal for his “enlightened philanthropy on behalf of the humanities.”

Daniel Robinson -- Distinguished Alumni Award
The first person to receive a Ph.D. (in Psychology) from the Graduate Center in 1965, Daniel Robinson is currently on the philosophy faculty at Oxford University and is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Georgetown. He is the author or editor of 52 books, including the classic Intellectual History of Psychology. His teaching and writings span such subjects as moral philosophy, the philosophy of psychology, legal philosophy, the philosophy of mind, intellectual history, legal history, and the history of psychology—a scope of expertise that he put to work as principal consultant for the award-winning PBS series The Brain and The Mind. Robinson has also served as president of, and been honored by, two divisions of the American Psychological Association.

Kristen Case -- Student Speaker and 10,000th Degree Representative
Kristen Case is a 2009 Graduate of the Ph.D. Program in English. She is the recipient of a Robert E. Gileece Fellowship, as well as the English program’s Millennium Dissertation Award. Ms. Case received a Masters of Fine Arts in poetry from Brooklyn College, and has published poems in The Iowa Review, Chelsea, The Saint Ann’s Review, and The Brooklyn Review. She was the 2004 recipient of the Iowa Award, the annual poetry prize of The Iowa Review. Her essay “On Reading The Cantos: A Pragmatic Approach” was published in Southwest Review last year.