Safa R. Zaki

Honorary Doctor of Laws

For someone who studies categorization, you’re awfully hard to pin down.

Your experiments on everything from eye movements to amnesia to autism have contributed to the fundamental understanding of human cognition. How do people assign things to categories?

But your career itself defies easy analysis: You combine deep work in your field with a gift for interdisciplinarity. You conduct advanced research but are also a superb teacher of novice students. You’re a brilliant scholar and a gifted administrator. Even though you came from Egypt, you learned to love sledding!

Through all of this, you’ve made only one error of judgment that we know of: allowing yourself to be recruited as dean of faculty on the eve of a global pandemic. But throughout it all you were an intrepid partner: able to quickly envision and formulate questions, test assumptions and offer the most insightful advice. No wonder students are drawn to you as a challenging but inspiring teacher and scientific mentor.

Then, when your first term was over, instead of returning to your beloved research and teaching, you re-upped as dean, determined to see through your original agenda for the sake of your faculty colleagues.

Now you’ll be leaving us soon. And a lot of us will find it hard to imagine Williams without you. We take comfort in the fact that it will be equally hard to imagine you without Williams. You’ll take a little of this place with you when you go, and leave a little of yourself with us. That’s why your decision to depart for the presidency of another college was met with a sense of both loss and gratitude.

In the terminology of your field, you’ve been both the prototype of a dean and an exemplary colleague and friend.

Perhaps future research will give us insight into how your mind works! We’d love to know how you manage to do so well in everything that you do. In the absence of those data, however, we’ll simply continue to celebrate, in awe and affection, as you do it.

I hereby declare you recipient of the honorary degree Doctor of Laws, entitled to all the rights, honors and privileges appertaining thereto.

June 4, 2023