SMU has chosen three extraordinary women to receive honorary degrees at its 100th Commencement ceremony Saturday, May 16, 2015.
The honorees are Meave Leakey, standard-bearer of a family of anthropologists whose research in Africa has revealed important clues to humans’ earliest ancestors; Irene Hirano Inouye, who helped build the Japanese American National Museum and is the founding president of the U.S.-Japan Council; and Helen LaKelly Hunt, a donor-activist, author and SMU alumna whose life focus has been to empower women and educate people about the value of healthy, intimate relationships. All three will receive from SMU the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.
Information about symposia presented by the honorary degree recipients will be released at a later date.
“One of the great privileges for SMU is conferring honorary degrees upon recipients who have excelled in their fields and contributed to society in diverse ways,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “They show our students how to change the world through education, service and philanthropy – and also illustrate the value of lives well-lived.”
> The history of honorary degrees at SMU, including honorees by name, year and degree
MEAVE LEAKEY has established herself as one of the most visible and distinguished scientists in a highly competitive profession through her field and laboratory research in paleoanthropology. Her research interests focus on East African mammalian evolution over the past 30 million years, with emphasis on primate and human evolution. Together with colleagues, Leakey has described new species of early apes, monkeys and human ancestors, including Australopithecus anamensis, the earliest known australopithecine (an extinct genus of early African hominids), and Kenyanthropus platyops (also extinct, the species name means “flat-faced man of Kenya”). These findings provide evidence of diversity in the human fossil record 3.5 million years ago.
Having retired as head of the Department of Palaeontology at the National Museums of Kenya, Leakey is now a research associate in the museum’s Palaeontology Division. She also is a research professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Stony Brook, New York, and director of Plio-Pleistocene research at the Turkana Basin Institute, Nairobi. In 2002, she was named a National Geographic “Explorer-in-Residence” in honor of the 50-year relationship between the National Geographic Society and the Leakey family.
Leakey is author of numerous groundbreaking scientific publications in prestigious journals and the author of several monographs documenting her research in Turkana. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including two honorary degrees from Stony Brook University and the University College of London, and was a recipient of the Academy of Achievement Award in 2004. In 2011 she was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Geological Society of London. In 2013 she was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., as a Foreign Associate, and the same year she became a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences.
Leakey received a B.S. in zoology and marine zoology from the University of North Wales in 1965 and a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of North Wales in 1968.
IRENE HIRANO INOUYE became the executive director of T.H.E. (To Help Everyone) Clinic in Los Angeles at the age of 27. Founded by medical volunteers, T.H.E. aspired to bring affordable healthcare to poor and uninsured women. In 1988, she was appointed president and CEO of the Japanese-American National Museum (JANM), which opened in 1992. She would develop it as one of the preeminent resources in America on the immigrant experience. Its high-profile exhibitions, community connections, research projects and eventual affiliation with the Smithsonian have helped the museum build a reputation for excellence while encouraging young people to acknowledge and connect with their Japanese-American heritage. Inouye has played a foundational role in getting the World War II Japanese internment camp experience into history textbooks, and in gaining public attention for exceptional Japanese-Americans.
Inouye became the founding president of the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC) in 2008, the same year she married U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye. The USJC builds upon her work at the Japanese American National Museum and seeks to create networks of Japanese-Americans at the top levels of business, government, education, and the non-profit sector. After the 2011 tsunami in Japan, she became the guiding force in the Tomodachi Initiative, which supports Japan’s recovery from the disaster as a joint project of the USJC and the American embassy in Tokyo.
Inouye currently serves as chair of the board of the Ford Foundation, and she previously chaired the board of the Kresge Foundation. She also serves on the executive boards of Independent Sector, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Smithsonian Institution, the American Association of Museums, and the President’s Committee.
Inouye earned two degrees in Public Administration from USC: her B.S. in 1970 and her M.P.A. in 1972.
HELEN LaKELLY HUNT is a donor-activist, author and SMU alumna who has been recognized for both her work for healthy marriages and family and her efforts in helping to build the global women’s funding movement. She is the founder of The Sister Fund, a private foundation that supports women’s social, political, economic and spiritual empowerment. Hunt has helped establish several other organizations, including Dallas Women’s Foundation, New York Women’s Foundation, Women’s Funding Network and Women Moving Millions.
Her books include Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance, as well as seven books on intimate relationships and parenting co-authored with her husband, Harville Hendrix. Their joint publications have sold more than two million copies and have been translated into more than 50 languages. With Hendrix, Hunt helped to develop Imago Relationships International, a nonprofit organization formed as a guide for transforming relationships and building better marriages. Imago Therapy is practiced by more than 1,900 therapists in more than 20 countries. Over the last two years, they have been disseminating in South Dallas and West Dallas “Safe Conversations” skills through a program called Family Wellness Dallas!
In recognition of her leadership in the women’s funding movement, Hunt has received Gloria Steinem’s Women of Vision Award from the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Equity Leadership Award from Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW), the National Creative Philanthropy Award from the National Network of Women’s Funds, and the Laura Parsons Pratt Award for Outstanding Achievement on Behalf of Women and Children from the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. In addition, Hunt has been an Honoree of the Center for the Elimination of Violence in the Family and has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Hunt received three degrees from SMU: a B.A. in Secondary Education in 1971, an M.L.A. in 1976 and an M.A in Counseling in 1979. Hunt earned a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary in 2004, her focus of study being the religious foundations of American Feminism.
> Learn more about SMU’s Commencement ceremonies, events and traditions at smu.edu/commencement