Honorary Degree Citation for Reynold Levy
Citation presented by Melinda W. Schlitt
William W. Edel Professor of Humanities
Professor of Art History
Conferring of the degree by William G. Durden, President
Reynold Levy, You begin your recent book, Yours for the Asking, with a quotation from Mahatma Gandhi: "the difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems." You go on to say that the inspiration to write this book (your third), was "motivated by the conviction that more charitable funds are available by orders of magnitude to prevent and cure disease, eliminate poverty, expand education, and relieve the misery of the bottom billion human beings who find themselves seemingly fated to occupy the lowest rung of the economic ladder."
We honor you today for your distinguished and ongoing career in philanthropy and public service, and for your unflappable commitment to improving and enriching the lives of others.
Your numerous initiatives demonstrate that in order for human progress to continue, we must imagine ways in which both the individual and community can aspire towards what philosophers from Epicurus to Nussbaum have called, "human flourishing." You have helped to make that premise a reality.
Your choices and actions exemplify a well-motivated life where the tangible results of your education, ambition, and achievement reside in the Greater Good.
Your life's work is a model of engaged citizenship, civic virtue and practical idealism.
You graduated with a B.A. from Hobart College in 1966, went on to acquire a law degree from Columbia University, and then a Ph.D. in government and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia. When asked recently in an interview by Charlie Rose what your goals were in seeking these educational degrees, you answered that you "wanted to build an intellectual road map for (yourself) and give (yourself) the capability to do many things."
You cite a passage from Aristotle's Ethics, in your book, which states: "The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking, for it is merely useful for the sake of something else," and with that advice in mind, you have sought to increase the role and visibility of corporate organizations in public welfare and awaken a sense of social responsibility within the non-profit sector.
As the architect and founder of the AT&T Foundation beginning in 1983, then the largest corporate philanthropic organization in America, you distributed well over $1 billion of support across 12 years. And as the executive director of the 92nd Street Y in NYC (1977-1984), and as a trustee of over a dozen institutions and a volunteer to at least that many, you have raised hundreds of millions more.
As President of the International Rescue Committee from 1997-2002, the world's primary refugee resettlement organization and advocate for displaced people worldwide, you raised hundreds of millions of dollars and logged thousands of miles traveling to crises in Rwanda, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, East Timor, and the eastern Congo, bringing emergency assistance to those fleeing in fear of persecution.
You have also noted that, "Not only in America, but all around the world, the arts are the embodiment of universalistic values and aspirations that merit exposure and matter deeply to proud citizens." In other words, art matters-it is civilizing; it organizes human experience and tells us who we are and what we can be. And while the performing arts are certainly the most ephemeral and immediate forms of artistic expression, they are also often those that leave the greatest, most lasting impression.
Your recent leadership of and support for the arts as President of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts during the past 10 years, has been transformational, but it also underscores your moral commitment to enriching the lives of as many people as you can. Raising $1.2 billion in six short years during a recession, you spearheaded a massive renovation and expansion of the performance spaces and the campus of Lincoln Center itself, seeking to support in every way possible the creative and gifted artists that define one of the highest standards of performing art in the world, AND at the same time, create more open, free-of-charge public spaces-a new environment for the average New Yorker. As you saw it, Lincoln Center should be a place for everyone, where social discourse could engage with what happened on stage, and performances themselves could be made more affordable.
But it is not only what you do, but perhaps more importantly, why you do it.
You describe your work in philanthropic fundraising as "not a burden," but "a pleasure;" "not a job," but "a calling." The work is hard and the hours are long-often relentless, and the personal costs are significant. But as you say, "It is a small price to pay when you see the results of your labor and that of your colleagues, doing what Aeschylus urged: 'taming the savageness of man and making gentler the life of this world.'"
The daunting task of convincing people to give money to a cause they didn't know existed and possibly didn't care about requires an unfailing optimism, a sense of humor, and a certitude about the ethical and societal benefit of your undertaking. Such certitude has led to one of your well-known maxims: "the word 'no' must be the beginning of a conversation."
But more importantly, on this occasion, the qualities you exemplify in your many achievements, and when you undertake what you have called "the process of solving the mystery of human motivation," are also among those qualities we hope our students at Dickinson acquire through the process of their education: openness, curiosity, integrity, empathy and honesty.
You have written: "Imagine. Then act. You can change the world for the better." And indeed, you have.
President Durden, it is my honor to present Reynold Levy for the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Public Service.
Reynold Levy, upon the recommendation of the Faculty to the Board of Trustees, and by its mandamus, I confer upon you the Degree of Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa, with all the rights, privileges, and distinction thereunto appertaining, in token of which I present you with this diploma and cause you to be invested with the hood of Dickinson College appropriate to the degree.