Hobart and William Smith Colleges will recognize three extraordinary alums with honorary degrees at this year's Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 19. John Grotzinger '79, Christopher McDonald '77 and Mara O'Laughlin '66 have each set benchmarks in their professions, establishing a lasting legacy for the Colleges and the nation.
"This year, the Colleges are proud to confer honorary degrees on three individuals whose accomplishments in science, the arts and education are truly exceptional," says President Mark D. Gearan. "In addition to their significant contributions in their fields and to the Colleges, they serve as powerful examples to our graduating seniors of the opportunities made possible through an HWS degree and the many pathways to a life of consequence."
John Grotzinger '79 has the distinction of being the mission leader and project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory which successfully landed the Curiosity Rover on Mars in August 2012. Its mission is to detect organic compounds in sedimentary rock that may point to the one-time existence of life on Mars. Due to the likelihood that the early history of the red planet is similar to that of the Earth, Grotzinger hopes to gain more understanding of Earth's evolution through studies of Mars. Still underway, the mission is widely described as among the most successful in NASA history.
Grotzinger is the Fletcher Jones Professor of Geology at the California Institute of Technology. An eminent sedimentologist and stratigrapher with wide-ranging interests in sedimentary processes, geobiology, and Earth's early history, Grotzinger previously served as the Shrock Professor of Earth Sciences and Director of the Earth Resources Laboratory at M.I.T.
Grotzinger was elected into the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors that can be accorded a U.S. scientist. He has also been awarded the National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, the Fred Donath Medal from the Geological Society of America, the Henno Martin Medal from the Geological Society of Namibia, and the Charles Doolittle Walcott Medal by the National Academy of Sciences.
Grotzinger earned a B.S. in geoscience from Hobart and was a member of the lacrosse team. He earned an M.S. from the University of Montana and a Ph.D. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He has returned to campus twice to speak with students about his work.
Christopher McDonald '77 has been described by the New York Times as one of the hardest working and most prolific actors in Hollywood. He has performed in nearly 100 films and countless television and theater productions. After graduating from Hobart, he went on to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and the world-renowned Stella Adler Acting Conservatory in New York. He reprised his role as Billy Flynn in the 10th Anniversary of Broadway's "Chicago," sharing the stage with Broadway legends Joel Grey and Chita Rivera, and is the recipient of the Drama-Logue Best Actor Award.
On April 1, he will star with two-time Academy Award-winner Tom Hanks in the Broadway production of "Lucky Guy," the late Nora Ephron's never-before-seen play. Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe will direct the production.
A regular on HBO's award-winning "Boardwalk Empire," McDonald is known for bringing legendary characters to life with consistent acclaim. On the silver screen he has starred in such films as "Requiem for a Dream," "Thelma and Louise," "The Perfect Storm," "Quiz Show" and "Happy Gilmore," working with actors like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Ralph Fiennes and Susan Sarandon, among many others, and for directors like Ridley Scott, the Coen Brothers, Robert Redford and Carl Reiner.
While at Hobart, McDonald played football and soccer and received his degree in English, cum laude. He has remained committed to his alma mater, returning to campus numerous times to present lectures, network with students, participate in Reunion and, in 2008, to co-emcee the William Smith Centennial Gala with his friend and former teacher, Mara O'Laughlin '66. In 2012, he pledged $1 million to the Performing Arts Center.
Mara O'Laughlin '66 first arrived at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in 1962 as a first-year student from Manhattan, and other than a brief departure just after graduation to teach history at Romulus Central School where Christopher McDonald '77 was her student, she hasn't left.
During the course of more than 40 years of service to the Colleges, she has taken on increasingly complex administrative roles from admissions to advancement, each one allowing her to make an indelible mark on the institution. As director of admissions of William Smith College from 1974 to 1992, and then of Hobart and William Smith Colleges until 2005, she admitted nearly two-thirds of all William Smith alumnae. In 2005, O'Laughlin took on a new role - that of assistant vice president of institutional advancement for the William Smith College Centennial Fund, a position that allowed her to reconnect with the alums she first met when they applied. After the initial Centennial fundraising goal of $6 million was surpassed and a total of $8 million raised, O'Laughlin was named assistant vice president for the performing arts initiative. As such, she has played an important role in framing the scope of the new performing arts project.
O'Laughlin was instrumental in establishing "Frank's Books" in the Warren Hunting Smith Library on campus - an extensive collection of nearly 11,000 scholarly books from the library of Professor Emeritus of History Frank O'Laughlin, to whom she was married for 35 years. She also established the Frank and Mara '66 O'Laughlin Scholarship, which targets middle income students of high promise in their first year.