for the UMass Boston Chancellor's Office


US Congressional Representative, IL-08

A Purple Heart veteran from the Iraq War, Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth is the first Asian American woman elected to Congress in Illinois and the first disabled woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 2004, Duckworth became one of the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom when she was deployed to Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard. In November of that year, her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, costing her both legs and partial use of her right arm. She spent a year in recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Promoted to major general, she became one of Walter Reed’s highest-ranking patients, and used her rank to advocate for better medical care for wounded veterans and their families. Later she appeared before Congress twice, delivering impassioned testimony on the need to improve care for veterans and wounded warriors.

After narrowly losing her bid for a congressional seat in 2006, Duckworth was named director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. During her tenure she worked toward developing tax incentives for employers to hire war veterans, as well as programs to improve mental support, health care, and housing resources for veterans and their families in Illinois. She continued these efforts on a national level in 2009 after President Obama appointed her to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs. In 2012 she won her congressional seat. On October 14, 2013, she announced her co-sponsorship of H.R. 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. This bill contains many of the same provisions included in the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in July.

Duckworth, born in Thailand to a mother of Chinese heritage and a father of British descent, is fluent in English, Thai, and Indonesian. She spent her childhood in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and Cambodia because her father did refugee work for the United Nations; when she was a teen, the family moved to Hawaii. She earned her MA in international affairs from the George Washington University, then moved to Illinois to begin working on her PhD in political science at Northern Illinois University. During that time she also worked at NIU’s School of Nursing, researching public health and environmental causes of cancer. She is now continuing her PhD studies at NIU and working toward a PhD in health and human services at Capella University.

Since her recovery, Duckworth has taken up scuba diving, surfing, and skydiving. She also still flies—as a civilian pilot—and, fulfilling a promise she made at Walter Reed, she has completed several marathons. Having declined a military medical retirement, she continues to drill as a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.

A model of courage, persistence, achievement, and service to this country, she is an inspiration to all of us. Her story will resonate deeply with everyone at UMass Boston, but particularly those who are—or who know someone who is—a veteran, disabled, or a first- or second-generation immigrant. For all these reasons, the University of Massachusetts Boston would be pleased to award the Honorable Tammy Duckworth an honorary Doctorate of Laws at its 2014 commencement.


Executive Secretary, UN Convention on Climate Change

As head of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres is one of the most influential persons in the world on the crucial topic of global warming. In urging us to rethink our identity as global citizens, Figueres has said, “We need to expand the boundary of our responsibility, in particular the boundary of our moral choice, beyond the boundary of our individual countries to the planet, and understand that we’re all in the same boat. We only have one planet.”

Figueras has been involved in climate change negotiations since the early 1990s, representing her native Costa Rica as well as the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. A widely published author, she also founded the Center for Sustainable Development in the Americas and frequently advises the private sector on how to play a leadership role on climate negotiations. Since UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon appointed her to her current position in May 2010, she has contributed to the design of key climate change agreements and instruments and promoted stronger political collaboration among the 197 state parties of the convention.

At the annual Sylvia and Benjamin Slomoff Lecture in Conflict Resolution, held at the University of Massachusetts Boston last April, Figueres captivated the audience with her analytical depth and spirit of public service. Acknowledging that stopping climate change “may seem a daunting task set against impossible odds,” she nonetheless affirmed that “we have the technologies and the capital. We now need to set them to the task. I am confident we can, and will, rise to the challenge and seize the greatest opportunity of our generation.”

That she herself has risen to the challenge and seized opportunities for the global public good is emblematic of her pedigree. Figueres is the daughter of Don Pepe, the legendary former president of Costa Rica considered the founder of modern democracy in his nation. Her mother is former ambassador to Israel from Costa Rica and a former member of Parliament. For generations, her family has dedicated itself to ensuring that the most vulnerable be given opportunities they lack at birth. Her work on climate change has brought attention to the plight of those in the least developed countries who are the least responsible for having caused climate change, yet the most vulnerable to its impact.

Figueres’ vision of the world, of our role as individuals, and of our responsibility as an institution of higher learning resonates strongly with UMass Boston’s values. Awarding her an honorary degree would reinforce and showcase the university’s commitment to excellence and public service across all levels of society. It will also honor the achievements of a woman who, as a beacon of clarity in complex international negotiations about the future of our planet, inspires our youth to follow in her footsteps. The award will also bring attention to the university as the world gears up for 2015, a critical milestone as governments finalize a new global agreement on climate change, assess progress on the Millennium Development Goals, and launch a new global effort on sustainable development goals. Figures, an important public figure in this arena, is likely to be instrumental in paving a path forward.

For her leadership in focusing the world’s attention on the crucial policy changes needed to address our environmental challenges, the University of Massachusetts Boston would be honored to award Christiana Figueres an honorary Doctorate of Laws at its 2014 commencement.


Buddhist Leader

“A person who cannot genuinely empathize with others can never excel as a leader. It is in enduring pain and struggles that the earth of our humanity is cultivated. And it is from this earth that a capacity to be genuinely concerned for the welfare of others blossoms.” In these words, Daisaku Ikeda reveals his personal history as a world-respected Buddhist leader, peace-builder, writer, educator, and founder of cultural, educational, and research institutions around the world.

Born in 1928 to a family of seaweed farmers, Ikeda struggled with ill health as a youth. The devastation and horror he witnessed as a teenager during World War II (the family home was twice destroyed in air raids) engendered a lifelong passion to work for peace. At 19 he met Josei Toda, an early leader of the Soka Gakkai (“value-creating society”), a lay Buddhist community based on 750-year-old Nichiren Buddhism. Toda, as his mentor and teacher, would come to have the most formative influence on Ikeda’s life. In 1960, two years after Toda’s death, he became president of the Soka Gakkai, launching an era of innovation, expansion, and worldwide engagement in cultural and educational pursuits. He also founded—and continues to lead—Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a global network linking over 12 million members in some 190 countries and territories. Likely the largest, most diverse international lay Buddhist association in the world today, SGI advocates individual empowerment and social engagement to advance peace, culture, and education. Ikeda also established a nondenominational school system based on Soka ideals that runs from kindergarten through graduate study with universities in Tokyo and Aliso Viejo, California. He also founded the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue (formerly the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century); the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research; and the Institute of Oriental Philosophy. All are nonprofit research institutes for cross-cultural, interdisciplinary collaboration on diverse issues. Every endeavor springs from Ikeda’s primary motivation: to fulfill the vision of his mentor, Josei Toda.

A prolific writer, Ikeda has published more than 100 works on Buddhist philosophy as well as biographical essays, poetry, children’s stories and photographic collections. Since 1983, he has also written peace proposals that include recommendations for strengthening civil society involvement, which he regards as essential to peace. But in his view, global peace relies as much on self-directed transformation within an individual as on societal or structural reforms. “A great inner revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind,” he writes.

Calling education the culminating endeavor of his life, Ikeda continues to develop networks of educational exchange and collaboration. His writings are currently used in university course materials in several countries, and more than 20 research institutes worldwide are dedicated to the study of his philosophy. To date, he has received more than 250 honorary doctorates and professorships from universities around the world. His message to young people is this: “The thing is to paint this vision of your life in your heart as specifically as possible. That ‘painting’ itself becomes the design of your future. The power of the heart enables us to actually create with our lives a wonderful masterpiece in accordance with that design.” For his unflagging commitment to Buddhist ideals, and for making his own life and vision a source of inspiration to others, UMass Boston would like to confer an honorary degree upon Daisaku Ikeda.