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Lenovo’s Amelio, three others to receive honorary degrees

William J. Amelio '79

William J. Amelio ’79, the president and chief executive officer of Lenovo Group Ltd., will speak to graduating students and join three others in receiving honorary degrees at Lehigh University’s 2008 commencement, scheduled for Monday, May 19.

Amelio, who, with his wife Jamie, founded a non-profit organization to improve the lives of impoverished Cambodian children, was chosen for his success on the international business stage and for his commitment to “being a responsible and generous global citizen,” in Lehigh President Alice P. Gast’s words.

The other honorary degree recipients are mathematician Michael P. Mortell, president emeritus of University College in Cork, Ireland; the influential Kenyan women’s rights advocate Phoebe Asiyo; and renowned Buddhist scholar Robert A.F. Thurman of Columbia University.

Mortell’s link to Lehigh, where he once taught, and his leadership of University College Cork during an important period in Irish higher education were compelling reasons for recognition, said Vincent G. Munley, the Iacocca Professor of Economics, who nominated him.

“As a former faculty member, Dr. Mortell will always be a part of the Lehigh community, and after he left South Mountain he had a very distinguished career,” said Munley, whom Mortell taught as a Lehigh undergraduate. “He served as president of Ireland’s University College Cork during a period when that university did very good things. He provided academic leadership at a time when great advances were made. This is exactly the type of person that a university like Lehigh wishes to honor through the conferring an honorary degree.”

Asiyo was nominated by her grandson, Uhuru Aseto ’08, an applied science major at Lehigh, who said that the depth and breadth of her achievements took him by surprise.

“I’ve always known my grandmother to be an extraordinary woman, but in my eyes it was simply because she was my grandmother,” he said. “Little did I realize how much of an impact she made on the lives of so many, let alone mine. It wasn't until I began doing research for her nomination that I really grasped what my grandmother has accomplished in her life.”

As the first American ever ordained a Tibetan monk, Thurman, whose latest book Why the Dalai Lama Matters will be released June 3, was a natural selection to conclude the year of preparation for this summer’s visit to Lehigh by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, according to Lloyd Steffen, university chaplain and professor of religious studies, who nominated him.

“Since we have had a rather remarkable year of working to prepare the campus with speakers and events related to Tibet, Buddhism and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we were hoping for a culminating event that would involve Baccalaureate and graduation,” said Steffen. “We were delighted that Professor Thurman graciously accepted our invitation to come to Lehigh to be our 2008 Baccalaureate Speaker, and we look forward to his talk, ‘The Seamless Monument: Living in the Truth.’ A scholar and author, a popular teacher at Columbia University, a political activist and well-known media commentator on Buddhism and all things Tibetan, Robert Thurman will make a wonderful addition to the commencement weekend activities.”

Here are short biographical sketches of this year’s four honorary degree recipients:

William J. Amelio ’79
William J. Amelio ’79 is the president and CEO of Lenovo Group Ltd., one of the top three PC companies in the world, with annual revenues of more than $16 billion. He is a proponent of increased strategic globalization, or what he calls “worldsourcing,” and recently published a piece in Forbes magazine on the topic. Amelio holds a master’s degree in management from Stanford University and a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Lehigh. Before joining Lenovo, he held senior leadership positions at Dell Inc., NCR Corporation, Honeywell International, Inc., AlliedSignal, Inc., and IBM. Amelio and his wife founded Caring for Cambodia, a nonprofit focused on education, in 2003. The charitable organization now supports thousands of Cambodian children by building schools, libraries, water wells and homes for needy families, and by providing professional training to teachers.

Michael P. Mortell
Michael P. Mortell, the president emeritus of University College in Cork, Ireland, is an applied mathematician whose work in the area of non-linear acoustics is important and significant. Mortell earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University College, and his doctorate from the California Institute of Technology. He served as associate professor in the Lehigh University Center for the Application of Mathematics from 1967 to 1973 before returning to a lectureship in mathematical physics at University College. In 1973, with co-workers, he identified a functional equation later called “The Standard Mapping,” which is considered to be of fundamental importance in understanding mathematical CHAOS. His research continued during his time as registrar and subsequently as president of University College. Following his presidency, Mortell served as Personal Chair in Applied Mathematics from 1999 until his retirement in 2006.

Phoebe Asiyo
Phoebe Asiyo is an outspoken advocate for women’s rights in Kenya and has been called one of Kenya’s most influential women. She serves as chair of the Kenyan Women’s Political Caucus and commissioner of the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission. Asiyo is a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Development Fund for Women, where she is involved in both African and international peace talks, recently participating in the Palestinian/Israeli Women’s Commission for Sustainable Peace. She was also appointed as a delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The CEO of the Child Welfare Society of Kenya, Asiyo was named UNICEF’s coordinator for the “Year of the Child” in Kenya. She is also a member of other various non-profit boards and organizations. Asiyo began her career as a teacher and later became Kenya’s first woman Senior Superintendent of Prisons. She was elected to Parliament through the General Election of 1979 and during her tenure, formed the Women’s Political Caucus in 1997. Asiyo is the grandmother of two Lehigh University alumni and one undergraduate student.

Robert A.F. Thurman
Robert A.F. Thurman is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and the president of the non-profit organizations Tibet House U.S. and the American Institute of Buddhist Studies. He also translates important Tibetan and Sanskrit philosophical writings and lectures and writes on Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism; on Asian history, particularly the history of the monastic institution in the Asian civilization; and on critical philosophy, with a focus on the dialogue between the material and inner sciences of the world's religious traditions. Time chose Thurman as one of its 25 most influential Americans in 1997, and his Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Real Happiness, was chosen by Publisher's Weekly as one of the best books of 1998. He is a riveting speaker and an author of many books on Tibet, Buddhism, art, politics and culture. Thurman holds a B.A., A.M. and Ph.D., all from Harvard University, and has studied in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in India and the United States. A long-time advocate of Buddhist monasticism, Thurman was the first American ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and offered expert commentary to numerous media outlets.

For more information, see Lehigh’s Commencement Web site.

--Tom Durso

Posted on Wednesday, May 14, 2008

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