Honorary Doctor of Laws
Every year, Williams honors guests who have accomplished something extraordinary. They’re often artists or media figures or leaders of great causes. Rarely does an administrator make the list.
Then again, you’re not “just an administrator.”
As head of the U.S. Holocaust Museum since 1999, you’ve been responsible for its extraordinary evolution into the foremost museum of its kind.
Growing up in Cleveland, you felt little personal connection to the Holocaust or anti-Semitism. One moment of awakening came while you were teaching in Australia and a student asked, “How can you be Jewish, because you’re an American?” At the museum you’ve shown us not only how that can be—but why it matters.
In its early days, some observers questioned the idea of establishing such a museum on the National Mall. They argued that it would commemorate a history that was “outside of” the American story. In the ensuing decades, you’ve shown millions of visitors how the history of the Jewish people and of the Holocaust are deeply intertwined with the history of America and the ongoing fight for human rights.
Now, the last generation of Holocaust survivors is dying, and your work is entering a new phase. “When all the eyewitnesses are gone,” you’ve said, “the collection will be the sole authentic witness to the Holocaust.”
Can a museum be a witness to history? Can a museum teach us to build a better future? These are weighty questions. We’re grateful that “an administrator” like you will try to answer them.
Because, to quote one of the museum’s mottoes, what you do matters.
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