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Nobel Laureates Among Knox College Honorary Alumni


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Four recipients of Knox College honorary degrees also have been winners of a Nobel Prize. U.S. President Barack Obama, pioneering social worker Jane Addams and explorer Fridtjof Nansen all received the Nobel Peace Prize; economist Gary S. Becker was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Knox College awarded Barack Obama an honorary degree in 2005, while he was serving as United States Senator from Illinois. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

  • From the honorary degree citation — "Barack Obama's election to the U.S. Senate continues his long history of public service: as a community activist on the south side of Chicago, as a civil rights lawyer, and as a member of the Illinois State Senate... He has united people at a time when many are divided... he has rejected the idea that uniting people means fleeing from principle or failing to defend the least powerful among us. — From the honorary degree citation by Karen Kampwirth, Professor of Political Science
  • "A Place in History," Barack Obama's commencement address at Knox College

Gary S. Becker

Gary S. Becker

Becker received an honorary degree from Knox in 1985. The economist at University of Chicago won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1992.

  • From the honorary degree citation — "Professor Gary Becker's scholarly life mirrors the best traditions of the academy: a lively irreverence for the conventional wisdom, a refusal to be constrained by artificial disciplinary boundaries, a careful attention to detail and a relentless search for insight. Intellectual daring has set him apart from his fellow master technicians. His prolific scholarly work has generated fundamental changes in the way in which social scientists think about racial discrimination, human capital, the family, the allocation of time and other matters central to human behavior." — From the honorary degree citation by Roy Andersen, Professor of Economics

Jane Addams

Jane Addams

Addams was awarded an honorary degree by Knox in 1934. Founder of the famed Hull House in Chicago, Addams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

  • Jane Addams "has added greatly to the world's treasure of good deeds. Her work at Hull House opened a new era in human relations and broadened and deepened the meaning of education. She has spoken strongly and worked effectively for that better understanding which alone can bring peace into the world. She is one of the great human beings of our day." — From the honorary degree citation by Albert Britt, President of the College.
  • In her autobiography Twenty Years at Hull House, Jane Addams wrote that when she was attending Rockford College in the 1880s, she participated in an intercollegiate debate competition that included another student, William Jennings Bryan, who later became a famous orator and public figure. In 2004, historian and Knox college graduate Matthew Norman, then a senior archives assistant in Knox's Seymour Library, examined documents, photographs and Addams' personal correspondence, all dating from the 1880s. Norman concluded that Addams' autobiography had combined recollections of two separate debate contests — an 1880 event at Knox that featured Bryan but not Addams among the competitors, and an 1881 event at Illinois College that Addams had observed.

Fridtjof Nansen

Fridtjof Nansen

The Norweigian explorer received an honorary degree from Knox, and gave a lecture on campus in 1897. Nansen received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his work with League of Nations on refugees.

  • A biographical sketch of Fridtjof Nansen, written in 1930 by former Knox President John Huston Finley — then editor of The New York Times — described Nansen as "a Viking... so magnificent in stature, so massive of head and so powerful of mind." Adventure to Nansen did not mean following blind impulse but wanting "to see the end of things" and holding to his purpose at all hazards till the work he set his mind and hand to was done and well done. "It was that disciplined spirit of true adventure," writes Finley, "which called him away from the microscope of the anatomist to make the first crossing of icebound Greenland and then, in that forever famous Arctic voyage, to drift in the frozen-in Fram across the North Polar Sea in a prereckoned course from which, as he said, having set foot on the icy trail, there was no possible retreat. He knew the risks when he burned his bridges, but knowing these he was still ready to face them in the confidence of seeing the thing through."

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Printed on Sunday, February 25, 2024