Eight receive honorary degrees at Johns Hopkins commencement

Video: Len Turner and Dave Schmelick

A groundbreaking filmmaker, an award-winning novelist, a Nobel Prize winner, and Maryland's first woman to become an administrative Circuit Court judge are among eight distinguished achievers who received Johns Hopkins University honorary degrees on Wednesday afternoon.

Image credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

The degrees were conferred at the universitywide commencement ceremony at Royal Farms Arena.

The 2016 Johns Hopkins honorary degree recipients are:

  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The author of acclaimed novels including Americanah, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 2013, Adichie writes stories inspired by her own life in Nigeria and the United States. She earned a master's degree from Johns Hopkins' Writing Seminars in 2003 and won a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" in 2008.

  • Richard Axel: Axel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004 for work on how the brain deciphers the world of smell—research he did with his colleague, Linda Buck. He continues to study olfactory perception as a University Professor and as an investigator at the Columbia University Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

  • Susan Baker: Founder of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, Baker is the author of the Injury Fact Book and is known for developing the Injury Severity Score, a system used to assess patients with multiple injuries. She has tirelessly advocated for life-saving tools that, thanks to her efforts, are now common, including airbags and child-safety caps.

  • Ellen M. Heller: The first woman appointed to be Maryland's Administrative Circuit Court judge, Heller introduced court-ordered mediation for some civil cases, allowing them to be resolved faster and more affordably than through a trial. She recently concluded her term as trustee and chair of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. She graduated with honors from Johns Hopkins in 1972.

  • Shelton Jackson (Spike) Lee: The filmmaker whose acclaimed works include Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever is also a writer, director, actor, producer, author, educator, and entrepreneur. The founder of 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Lee's work is known for challenging assumptions about race and prejudice. He is also this year's commencement speaker at Johns Hopkins.

  • Judith Rodin: Rodin is the president of The Rockefeller Foundation, an organization focused on building greater resilience and more inclusive economies. A former psychology professor, she served as provost of Yale and as the first woman president in the Ivy League at the University of Pennsylvania, her alma mater.

  • Shale Stiller: An eminent trial attorney and a partner at DLA Piper, Stiller was a leader in the comprehensive revision of the Code of Maryland (Statutes). He has been at the forefront of recent high-profile successful litigation against Iran, and has been named in every edition of The Best Lawyers in America since it was first published in 1987. An adjunct professor at the University of Maryland Law School for 53 years, Stiller earned a master of liberal arts degree with honors at Johns Hopkins in 1977.

  • Laurie Zabin: The founding director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, Zabin has led public health initiatives in developing nations. A former Planned Parenthood director, Zabin, who has a PhD from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, is also an expert on teen pregnancy and reproductive rights.

Image caption: The 2016 Johns Hopkins honorary degree recipients are (clockwise from top left) Judith Rodin, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Susan Baker, Spike Lee, Laurie Zabin, Shale Stiller, Ellen Heller, and Richard Axel.

Image credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University