Skip to main content

Honorary degrees for Chicago mayor and three others

The four will be honored at a virtual commencement for contributions to the arts, sciences and leadership

Four distinguished individuals, including Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, will receive honorary degrees from Northwestern University.

Lightfoot will receive her honor and deliver the commencement address during the University’s virtual ceremony on June 19. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Northwestern President Morton Schapiro announced recently that commencement will be virtual, marking the first time in 162 years the ceremony will not be held in person. The University will honor the graduates in person at a later date.

Along with Lightfoot, three others will receive honorary degrees at the ceremony: Norman Lear, JoAnne Stubbe and George M. Whitesides.

Lori Lightfoot

As Chicago mayor, Lori E. Lightfoot has been widely praised for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a combination of humor and decisive leadership, Lightfoot has become a leading figure in urging Chicagoans, and others, to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Memes of her appearing in iconic Chicago locations — empty of people — have gone viral on social media. Her “Stay Home, Save Lives” campaign has garnered international attention.

Lori Lightfoot
Lori Lightfoot

In addition, since assuming office on May 20, 2019, Mayor Lightfoot has undertaken an ambitious agenda of expanding opportunity and inclusive economic growth across Chicago’s neighborhoods and communities. Early accomplishments include historic ethics and good governance reforms, worker protection legislation and closing a record $838 million budget gap, as well as key investments in education, public safety and financial stability. Mayor Lightfoot also placed Chicago on the path to a $15 minimum wage by 2021.

Prior to her historic election, Mayor Lightfoot most recently served as a senior equity partner in the Litigation and Conflict Resolution Group at Mayer Brown. Previously, she served as president of the Chicago Police Board as well as the chair of the Police Accountability Task Force.

Mayor Lightfoot also served as chief of staff and general counsel of the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, interim first deputy of the Chicago Department of Procurement Services, chief administrator of the Office of Professional Standards and as Assistant United States Attorney.

A native of Massillon, Ohio, Mayor Lightfoot has been a resident of Chicago since 1986 and lives on the Near Northwest Side with her wife, Amy Eshleman, and their daughter.

Norman Lear

Norman Lear is a television and film writer and producer whose dynamic career in Hollywood has encompassed both the Golden Age and era of streaming. At 97, he has no plans to retire. 

Norman Lear
Norman Lear

Born in 1922 in New Haven, Connecticut, Lear attended Emerson College before flying 52 combat missions over Europe during World War II. Upon his return, Lear began a successful career writing and producing programs such as “The Colgate Comedy Hour” and “The Martha Raye Show.” He would go on to captivate 120 million viewers per week with his iconic shows of the 1970s and ’80s — “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” 

Lear’s social and political activism extend beyond the messaging of his programs and he continues to be a strong advocate for civic duty and progressive American values. In 1980, he founded People For the American Way. Today, the organization has more than 1 million members and continues to defend freedom of expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy. 

His production banner, ACT III, has a first look deal with Sony Pictures Television. He serves as executive producer to the critically acclaimed reimagining of “One Day at a Time,” recently resurrected for a fourth season by PopTV and CBS after a three-season run on Netflix. He also executive produces and co-hosts with Jimmy Kimmel “LIVE in Front of a Studio Audience,” which set record ratings for ABC and won an Emmy for “Outstanding Variety Special,” as well as Critics’ Choice Award for “Best Comedy Special.” 

Lear is a 2017 Kennedy Center honoree, a recipient of the National Medal of Arts (1999) and the Peabody Lifetime Achievement Award (2016) and a proud member of the inaugural group of inductees to the Television Academy Hall of Fame (1984). He has won five Primetime Emmys and a Golden Globe. 

JoAnne Stubbe

JoAnne Stubbe is professor emerita in biology and chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her work has helped explain the mechanisms of some of nature’s most complex and important enzyme mechanisms.

JoAnne Stubbe
JoAnne Stubbe

Throughout her career, she has worked with outstanding collaborators to develop new techniques to reveal the otherwise inaccessible chemical complexity of enzymatic systems and, in particular, to illustrate how nature harnesses the reactivity of free radicals to carry out difficult chemistry with exquisite specificity. Her work has had an impact across diverse areas from cancer therapy to the synthesis of biodegradable plastics.

Stubbe began her career at Williams College, Yale Medical School and the University of Wisconsin before moving to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry (1986), the Alfred Bader Award in Bioorganic and Bioinorganic Chemistry ACS (1997), the National Medal of Science (2008), the Welch Award in Chemistry with Christopher Walsh HMS (2010),the MIT Killian Faculty Award (2012), the Pearl Meister Greengard International Award to recognize Outstanding Women in Biomedical Science (2017),an Honorary Doctor of Science from The ScrippsInstitute (2018) and the Priestley Medal from the American Chemical Society (2020).  

Stubbe has mentored numerous students and postdoctoral fellows and considers research education (both undergraduate and graduate) an important and vital part of her legacy. She has mentored and advocated for the advancement of those underrepresented in the sciences, especially women. She was the first woman to receive tenure in the chemistry department at MIT (1987) and continues to educate and mentor young scientists.

George Whitesides

George M. Whitesides is the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard University. He obtained his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Harvard in 1960, his Ph.D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1964 and then joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before moving to Harvard University in 1982. 

George Whitesides
George Whitesides

His current research interests include physical and organic chemistry, materials science, biophysics, water, self-assembly, complexity and simplicity, origin of life, dissipative systems, affordable diagnostics and soft robotics.

Although trained in chemistry, Whitesides has made seminal contributions far beyond this field, including in the areas of materials science, mechanical engineering, drug discovery, medical diagnostic systems for underdeveloped regions and many others. His prolific and wide-reaching work has opened new fields of inquiry and innovation which has led to the development of materials for robotic systems, surface chemistries for drug discovery assays and methods for microfabrication. 

Whitesides has won numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science, and has been elected a member to the world’s leading scholarly societies, including: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, American Philosophical Society, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fellow of the Institute of Physics, New York Academy of Sciences, World Technology Network, Honorary Member of the Materials Research Society in India, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Foreign Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Throughout his luminous career, he has mentored hundreds of students, trained countless faculty colleagues and built numerous collaborations to advance the scholarship of science and engineering.

Back to top