Nobel laureate, economist, and moral philosopher Amartya K. Sen, Harvards Lamont University Professor Emeritus and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge University, will be the principal speaker at the Afternoon Exercises of the Universitys 349th Commencement on Thursday, June 8.
In addition, fellow Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, Harvards Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet-in-Residence, will deliver a special poetry reading to mark this turn-of-the-millennium Commencement.
Regarded by some as the “conscience keeper” of the world of economics, Sen is considered one of the worlds preeminent experts on social choice theory and welfare economics. With strong interests in poverty, famine, and inequality, he has written more than a dozen books and has received many distinguished honors during his illustrious career, including the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998.
“Amartya Sen is a profoundly imaginative and eloquent student of the human situation in its most significant dimensions,” said President Neil L. Rudenstine. “He works on absolutely fundamental problems at the intersection of economics and moral philosophy, and he brings to those problems not only brilliant analytic power but also an unerring sense of fairness and justice. It will be a privilege and a pleasure to welcome him back to Cambridge our Cambridge for Commencement Day.”
“It is a unique circumstance that we are to be graced with the presence and remarks of two Nobel laureates at the annual meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association,” said Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) President Ting C. Pei. “In addition to the accomplishments of Professor Sen and Professor Heaney, which have been widely noted, both of these distinguished men have made significant contributions to the life of our University and each continues to add meaningfully to the knowledge which will spur succeeding generations of scholars to new endeavors in their respective fields while adding new insights and amazement for the rest of us.”
Sen, a native of India, graduated from Presidency College in Calcutta, and received his bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees from Trinity College, Cambridge University. In 1977, he was appointed professor of economics at Oxford University. He joined the faculty at Harvard in 1987, and was named Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1998.
When awarding Sen the Nobel Prize in 1998, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited his “key contributions to the research on fundamental problems in welfare economics [ranging] from axiomatic theory of social choice to empirical studies of famine . He has improved the theoretical foundation for comparing different distributions of societys welfare and defined new, and more satisfactory indexes of poverty.”
Sen dedicated $400,000 of the $940,000 prize to establish two trusts one in his native India, and the other in Bangladesh with the purpose of providing educational and health resources for the poor.
Last year, Sen was named the “distinguished adviser on human development” to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Sen has been a regular contributor to the UNDPs Human Development Report, which is based on one of his tenets that human progress is not measured by income alone.
That dogma has been a consistent theme in Sens writings, from earlier works such as On Economic Inequality (Oxford University Press, 1973, 1997) to his more recent publications including Inequality Reexamined (Harvard University Press, 1992). Sens latest book, Freedom, Rationality, and Social Choice, is due out later this year.
Since leaving Harvard for Trinity College in 1998, Sen has maintained close ties to both the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the School of Public Health.
Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, Harvard’s Ralph Waldo Emerson Poet-in-Residence, will deliver a special poetry reading to mark this turn-of-the-millennium Commencement. Photo by Jon Chase
Heaney, who was born in Northern Ireland, is considered one of the most important poets of our time. He has published numerous books of poetry and prose since graduating from Queens University in 1961. Among his critically acclaimed works are North (1979), The Haw Lantern (1987), and Seeing Things (1991). Heaney began teaching at Harvard in 1982. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, for his “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past,” and a year later, was made a Commandeur de LOrdre des Arts et Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.
Traditionally, the Commencement speaker addresses an audience of alumni, faculty, graduates, and their families during the annual meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association, which is held on the afternoon of Commencement day, following the morning exercises.
Previous speakers at Harvard Commencement ceremonies include Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1999); Mary Robinson, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, and former president of the Republic of Ireland (1998); Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997); Harold Varmus, director of the National Institutes of Health (1996); Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic (1995); and Vice-President Al Gore (1994).