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Human rights advocate, banking leaders and film legends among those to receive honorary degrees

Track star Abby Hoffman raised the bar for women in sport, Mark Carney helped Canada weather the first financial storm of the 21st century and Frank McKenna strengthened the country’s ties with the U.S.  

Beyond our borders, Graça Machel fought tirelessly for human rights in Mozambique, while Italian filmmaking duo Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi enchanted the world with a life-affirming tale of joy found in the darkest places.  

They are among the 15 people set to receive honorary degrees from the University of Toronto.  

The recipients listed below, who will be honoured primarily during convocation ceremonies in 2015, also include thought leaders, renowned scientists and researchers. A schedule of events for the spring and fall ceremonies will be released as June convocation approaches.

“We are tremendously excited that these extraordinary individuals have accepted the University of Toronto’s highest honour,” said President Meric Gertler.  “Their leadership extends across an incredibly wide range of fields, and each of them is an inspiration to the entire U of T community.”

The honourees are:

Arnold Aberman – Professor Emeritus Arnold Aberman transformed the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto while he was dean from 1992 to 1999. As vice-provost, he played a major role in restructuring the Toronto teaching hospital system, bringing the hospitals into a much closer, cooperative and integrated relationship with the University. 

Alfred Aho – World-leading computer scientist Alfred Aho is known for his groundbreaking research on programming languages, compilers and algorithms. He has co-authored some of computer science’s most widely-used textbooks, including The Design and Analysis of Computer Algorithms and Principles of Compiler Design. The Columbia University professor is also a co-inventor of the AWK programming language and contributed to the development of several UNIX features. 

Roberto Benigni – Roberto Benigni is a highly accomplished Italian filmmaker, actor and writer best known for his 1997 film La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful).  The film became the most successful Italian film of all time and the most successful non-English film ever. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, with Benigni winning the award for Best Actor – the first for a male performer in a non-English-speaking role – as well as Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Dramatic Score. His contribution to performing arts earned Benigni a nomination for a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007.

Nicoletta Braschi – A highly successful Italian actress and producer, Braschi boasts an extensive filmography. She has had several successful film collaborations with her husband, including Johnny Stecchino (1991), Il mostro (1994), and La vita è bella. For her role as Dora Orefice in the latter, Braschi received a nomination for a Screen Actors Guild award. In 1997, Braschi’s performance in Paolo Virzi’s Ovosodo earned her much praise from critics and audiences alike. A year later, she was awarded the David di Donatello Award, as Best Supporting Actress, for her role in this film. In 2002, she became a member of the jury at the Berlin Film Festival. 

Mark Carney – In the five years that he headed Canada's central bank, Mark Carney’s actions played a major role in helping Canada avoid the worst impacts of the financial crisis that began in 2007. In November 2012, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Carney as the first foreigner to lead the Bank of England. As a result of changes that took effect in 2013, the role comes with vastly enhanced powers, and his appointment is arguably the most significant in the Bank of England’s 318-year history.  (Update: degree to be conferred in 2016.)

Jan Gehl – An award-winning Danish architect and urban design consultant, Jan Gehl has helped transform urban environments in cities like Copenhagen, London and New York. His designs, such as developing the car-free zone and bike-path network in Copenhagen, reflect his theory that cities should be built shaped to the needs of the inhabitants. His first book, Life Between Buildings, is considered a classic. He has acted as a consultant to city council and city planning departments across Europe, North America, Australia, Japan, Singapore and Saudi Arabia. 

Abigail (Abby) Hoffman – It began in the mid-1950s with Abby Hoffman cutting her hair short at the age of nine so she could join a boys’ hockey league. She went on to compete in track and field at four Olympics, won gold at the Pan Am Games in 1973 and 1981 and eventually became the first woman to head Sports Canada. Hoffman was also instrumental in the establishment of the women’s hockey championships. While working to revolutionize women’s sports in Canada, Hoffman also made strides for women's rights at U of T, as a leader in the campaign to gain admission for women to Hart House.

Maria Klawe – Maria Klawe is a renowned computer scientist, mathematician and internationally-recognized advocate for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). As dean of science at UBC, dean of engineering at Princeton University and president of Harvey Mudd College, a highly-regarded undergraduate engineering school, Klawe pioneered innovative strategies to support underrepresented groups in STEM. 

Graça Machel – Graça Machel is a tireless advocate for women, children and community development.  As minister of education in Mozambique, she implemented universal education in the country. In 1994, Machel’s groundbreaking report on the impact of armed conflict on children led the U.N. to appoint a special representative on the issue. Machel is a founding member of the Global Elders, a group of independent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.  Machel will receive her honorary degree in 2016.

Bob McDonald – Bob McDonald has been engaging audiences of all ages for decades with his passion for science. With CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, and as the science correspondent on The National, McDonald has a global reach through digital media and a weekly audience of over 500,000. He is applauded for combining his love of science with his ability as a journalist to make science easier to understand for the greater public. Many of the causes he supports, including Let’s Talk Science, further promote science education across the country.

Frank McKenna – Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna led the province to unprecedented growth and prosperity between 1987 and 1997. He promoted small- and medium-sized businesses, generated budget surpluses, reduced the provincial debt and supported the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. He went on to become Canada’s ambassador to the United States. As deputy chair of TD Bank Group, McKenna has helped the bank expand its North American portfolio, making it one of the 10 largest banks in the world.

Jacqueline Novogratz – Founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund and one of the world’s most innovative voices in philanthropy, Jacqueline Novogratz is widely recognized as a thought leader on development and aid to developing countries. Under her leadership, Acumen Fund has invested more than $80 million in African and South Asian companies that provide affordable health care, water, housing and energy to the poor. In 2009, Novogratz was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers.

Sir Paul Nurse – Sir Paul Nurse is renowned for his landmark contributions to cell biology, and his leadership of some of the world's most prestigious research organizations. His role in identifying the protein molecules that control the division of cells earned him the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which he shared with Lee Hartwell and Tim Hunt. Their breakthrough discovery has led to significant advances in medicine, biology and cancer research over the past 25 years. Nurse was president of the Rockefeller University from 2003 to 2010, and currently serves as president of the Royal Society and director and chief executive of the Francis Crick Institute in London. 

Sir Richard Peto – Over the past 20 years, Sir Richard Peto of the University of Oxford has been the most influential epidemiologist in the world. His studies on tobacco and chronic disease risk factors, large-scale clinical trials and meta-analyses have directly contributed to improved patient care in Canada and around the world. Peto has conducted many large randomized trials of treatments now commonly used and several large collaborative meta-analyses of all available trials that have changed worldwide practice in a number of areas, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  

Paul Volcker – If you have studied economics, you’ve heard of the Volcker Rule, which prohibits banks from engaging in proprietary trading that is not at the behest of its clients, and from owning or investing in a hedge fund or private equity fund. Economist Paul Volcker, after whom the phrase was coined, served as chair of the United States Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987 and is widely credited with ending America’s spiral inflation at the time. His approach to fighting inflation represented a significant contribution to our understanding of macroeconomic forces in the global economy. During the financial crisis of 2008-2009, he was asked to serve as the chair of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.