South O’ the Highway

Alan Alda Receives Honorary Degree from Stony Brook

The acclaimed actor is having a momentous year.

Water Mill’s Alan Alda received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree at Stony Brook University’s 2019 commencement ceremony at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium in Stony Brook on Friday, May 24. Along with Alda, the school honored the largest graduating class in its history, totaling more than 7,500 students receiving 7,625 degrees.

Alda, an award-winning actor, polymath and the inspiration behind the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, spoke to the class of 2019 after receiving his degree, conferred on behalf of the State University of New York by Trustee Cary Staller and President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., who gave a glowing speech in his honor.

“You are an acclaimed actor, director and writer, and a steadfast champion for science communication and women’s rights. You have received international recognition for your 60-plus-year career in theater, television and film, and have earned seven Emmy awards and six Golden Globes. You created the much-loved character of Hawkeye Pierce on the groundbreaking TV show M*A*S*H, as well as other memorable characters on The West Wing and 30 Rock, and in numerous award-winning films. Your love of science drew you to PBS, where you hosted Scientific American Frontiers for 12 years, bringing top scientists into the homes of millions,” Stanley said, while also recognizing that Alda’s commitment to science education helped to found the center in his name.

“The Alda Center empowers scientists to communicate complex topics in engaging ways, helping to facilitate the understanding of scientific information by the public. You have received numerous awards for this work, including the National Academy of Science’s Public Welfare Medal and the Scientific American Lifetime Achievement Award. And your work continues as you tirelessly strive to improve the dissemination of scientific information throughout the world. For the lasting impact you have made on our society, the State University of New York is honored to award you the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts,” Stanley added before delivering Alda’s degree.

Stony Brook University President President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and Alan Alda
Stony Brook University President President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and Alan Alda, Courtesy SBU

“I’m so proud of our team [at the Center for Communicating Science] and what we’ve brought to the surface is something that every human needs to bring to the surface, which is empathy—the ability to connect with another person so that when you try to communicate something to them,” Alda told the class of 2019. “Whether it’s something complex like science or medicine…whether you’re a doctor talking to a patient and you have to tell that patient what they can do to get healthy again…or even to face death. You need to be able to compassionately talk with them; to take them into account. You’re not just rattling off what you know. And by now you all know a lot. But you have to connect with the other person to communicate with them, even if it’s something as complex as your own feelings toward a partner,” he continued.

“It takes work,” Alda said. “But here’s the thing—if you dig down under the surface to bring to the surface your own dream, your own thing that motivates you that makes you want to help other people, that is born from your sense of generosity, the work you do to accomplish that dream won’t seem like work. It’ll seem like fun. That’s how it’s been for me. And you may find, as I’ve found, that the dream you start out with can morph into some other dream and another dream after that.”

Alda has already had a momentous year. On January 27, one day before his 83rd birthday, he accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards. In July of 2018, Alda revealed he had been living with Parkinson’s disease for three years. He is also in talks to discuss a possible M*A*S*H* reunion, and Season 4 of his Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda podcast starts on Tuesday, June 4.

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