Selected letters from newly-elected Members
American Academy of Arts & Sciences
We graciously accept the appointment as Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Science.
It is an immense honor to be a Member of the Academy and we are humbled to be joining the company of such a distinguished and extraordinary group of individuals.
We wish the Academy well in its endeavors and we congratulate you on your outstanding achievements. Thank you for honoring us with this appointment.
N R Mandela
President of South Africa; Lawyer; Anti-apartheid activist
Elected 2009, International Honorary Member
Dear Louis W. Cabot and Leslie C. Berlowitz,
Looking through the list of members in the Academy I realized here are the people who have defined my hope for humanity, brought my mind and heart into greater synchronicity. I am transported by the thought of belonging to such a fellowship. In fact this magic of meeting has already blossomed:
– through composers Leonard Bernstein, Andre Previn, and Yehudi Wyner
– to choreographer Christopher Wheeldon creating “A place for us” – a pas de deux leaps to life on the stage of NYC Ballet May 8, 2013 accompanied by this enthralled clarinet player.
I rejoice in the members of the Academy. Within each of us abides this amazing amalgam of wonder, wisdom, dedication, and simplicity.
I am thrilled to accept your invitation.
Musician (clarinetist, recording artist); Educator
My election as a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2014 Class, is an unexpected privilege. I am, therefore, honoured and gratified to become a member of this august body and for the recognition it confers on my work. For membership embodies a promise that assumes profound significance, as I join a long and distinguished list of those who have transformed universal human experience.
Through its work and contributions to the humanities, science and technology, global security and social policy, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences provides institutional memory, context and continuity for the benefit of contemporary and future scholars, scientists, leaders, inventors and artists, not only in the United States of America, but globally. Knowledge germinates from the soil of a multitude of disciplines and is thus without borders and limits, being universal and ubiquitous. A proverb from Africa states: "A tree is known by its fruits and not by its roots".
The function of art, like this institution, is to look at our universe openly, re-define what is possible, and at times situate the importance of the process over the product. Function also enables participation in Truth and Reality; enabling us to understand our shared humanity and to offer insights into humanity's predicaments - not to instruct or clarify, but is most effective when it stimulates dialogue and debate, and engenders respect . . . even awe.
Our 21st century is characterised chiefly by a microwave syndrome of instant results and the circularity of entitlement. In addition, our political and social landscape is in danger of descending into nihilism through the threat of a pernicious and highly radicalised ideology which, though it claims to espouse religious exceptionalism, has no race, class, national borders and religion. This Academy, therefore, assumes, as never before in its 234-year history, a highly critical role in these unsettling times as a stabilising entity and a conduit for continued interaction and influence between its members and the rest of the international community.
My commitment, as an artist to humanity and my national and continental heritage, remains unshaken. And, I hope that my creative and intellectual contributions to the ever expanding narrative and goals of this great assembly will always be useful.
Artist (sculptor); Educator
Elected 2014, International Honorary Member
Dear Mr. Randel and Mr. Fanton,
It is a great honor to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and I accept membership in this society with deep gratitude.
To become a member of a group that includes some of the world's leading scientists, physicians, inventors, philosophers, writers, politicians, business leaders and activists -people who have shaped the world in recognizable ways -- is at once humbling and motivating. I am reminded of my own journey from a public housing project in New York City to a CEO of a major corporation, and of my conviction that the American dream is a jewel that is ours to nurture, sustain and pass on to others.
Math, science and technology were the disciplines which offered me a path to opportunity. I believe, like many of the community-minded business leaders who came before me, that extending the benefits of technology to society is a moral imperative for every scientist, researcher and businessperson.
As a member of the Academy, I look forward to working with innovative thinkers and leaders from academic, business and government sectors to advance the society's mission. In particular, I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the academy's efforts to advance public support and understanding of science and technology. From my work with organizations dedicated to improving education in math, engineering and sciences, I am encouraged by the progress that can be made when people join together in a common cause.
Ursula M. Burns
Mechanical engineer; Company executive
Dear Drs. Randel and Fanton,
I am greatly honoured to be elected a member of such an august body as the American Academy for the Arts and Sciences. As the ancient Egyptians would say:
(My heart is joyful. I am delighted to be one who is among the company of great ones of knowledge).
[particularly Benjamin Franklin, a great hero of mine].
I very much look forward to the ceremony in October, and to meeting you then.
Distinguished University Professor
Egyptologist; Archaeologist; Museum curator; Educator
Elected 2017, International Honorary Member
Dear Mr. Randal and Mr. Fanton,
This letter is a thrill to write: I’m delighted to accept your invitation to join the Academy. Indeed, I’m dashing this off quickly before anyone realizes that there has been some mistake!
I admire my colleagues who are already members, and previously I was jealous of them. This invitation will then ease my jealousy and make me a better person.
Frankly, I also think that this is a time in which anti-intellectualism is on the rise, along with resistance to science and skepticism of the value of the humanities. So this is a particularly important time for those of us who care deeply about the arts and sciences to stand together on their behalf—and thanks for including me in the vanguard.
Journalist; Writer (columnist)
Re: Offer of Membership in the AAAS
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am in receipt of your offer of admission for me to join the fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
I am surprised, humbled, and grateful.
I consider it a cause for great celebration and happiness.
I am pleased to accept your offer, and hope to contribute as much as I know I will learn from the association.
Legal scholar; Computer scientist; Educator
Dear Dr. Andrews and Dr. Oxtoby,
It is with great pleasure that I accept membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The renowned history of the Academy, linked to the founding of the United States, makes me proud to join the ranks of its esteemed membership. As Professor of Astronomy on the Maria Mitchell Chair at Vassar College, I have long admired Maria Mitchell and the roles that she played in advancing astronomy as well as women’s rights. It is an honor to follow her as a member of the Academy, in addition to some of the most influential people in the world in so many different disciplines.
The efforts of the Academy in the area of arts and humanities, democracy and justice, education, energy and environment, global affairs, and science and technology underscore the commitment of its membership to having a positive impact on humanity. I look forward to joining those efforts and contributing as I am able.
Many thanks for this amazing honor.
Debra Meloy Elmegreen
Dear Chair Andrews and President Oxtoby,
I thank you for the invitation into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. With pleasure and no small sense of humility, I accept, and look forward to coming to Cambridge in October. I've been thinking, since receiving your letter, about honor, that it must reside somewhere midway between art and science. Set into our neurobiology by evolution, honor is also, like a work of art, unquantifiable, subjective—not object but qualia..
To now join the roster of current and former members is a true honor—for my words, for me. It is startling and unaccountable to ponder sharing a lineage of signatures and intentions - a lineage of acts and aspirations – with the Signers, with Martin Luther King, Jr., Barbara McClintock, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Toni Morrison, Jonas Salk, Georgia O'Keeffe. With Nelson Mandela. With Darwin.
Honor includes also the sense of obligation: we honor our debts. And so I accept this invitation in awareness of names that are missing. I accept on behalf of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, on behalf of the innumerable, unknown to me, poets _whose discoveries are equally present in all I write. I accept, too, remembering those missing for reasons of geography, language, timing. Within each Academy's member's work, the lineage of Newton's giants' shoulders goes back to ancient Sumeria, India, China, to indigenous elders whose place-names we no longer know. I accept knowing that elected with me come the animals, the plants, the insects, corals, and starfish, the bacteria, minerals, molecules. I doubt any of them will notice their induction. But I notice, and so I write them into this letter, along with my pleasure and gratitude that my investigations as a poet now join, in the Academy's lineage, the investigations of biologists, of geologists, of the architects of justice, compassion, technologies, beauties, cultures.
I thank you for the honor – and for the reminder of obligation – brought by this invitation. I look forward to joining the Academy's members, past, present, and – if the biosphere survives its current perils, in part, perhaps, because of its members' efforts – future.
Poet; Translator; Writer (essayist)
Dear Drs. Nancy C. Andrews and David W. Oxtoby,
I am thrilled to accept membership in the AAA&S, and I would be honored to attend the 2019 Induction in October. While this election honors my accomplishments in biomedical research, it also reflects a much larger collective effort by scores of talented collaborators and trainees with whom I have worked with over the last three decades.
Those who devote their lives to creative pursuits are often inspired by a singular event. Mine came from my great-grandfather, whose 1890 Bausch & Lomb microscope, abandoned in a closet after being shipped west from Worcester Massachusetts, came into my possession when I was 10 years old. I picked it up and began exploring the biological world, never to stop. But sporadic events are not enough to support a lifetime of curiosity and discovery. That support would come via the State of California through an amazing and accessible public education system, and through the National Institutes of Health, which has supported curiosity-based discovery research as an engine for improving our health and well-being. Unwavering support also came from my husband, family, and mentors who provided the personal strength and resiliency needed to overcome moments of disappointment, insecurity, and self-doubt.
I thoroughly enjoy my life as a scientist and continue to be addicted to the rare experimental successes sprinkled among the many failures inherent in the scientific process. I look forward to advancing the stated mission of the Academy and leveraging this award to increase diversity and inclusion in our nation’s STEM enterprise. Below, I share two congratulatory notes written by my mother and father (92/94 yrs old) and my grand-niece (10 yrs old) – they are special.
Holly A. Ingraham, Ph.D.
Molecular physiologist; Educator
Dear Committee Members,
I am writing to thank you for electing me to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. I am humbled by and grateful for this honor and pleased to accept your invitation to join the 2019 class.
The reason I enrolled in graduate school as a nontraditional, older adult was to use my education to make a difference in Indian Country. The research I've done, the classes I've taught and the outreach I've conducted have always been done in collaboration with Native communities. Applied theory, service learning, and tribally framed capacity-building projects are strands, which, when braided, represent successful community engagement. They encompass the four "Rs" we talk about in my Ojibwe community: respect, relationship, relevance, and reciprocity.
This is who I am. That the members of the Academy believe I belong in their ranks is truly heartening. By awarding me this honor, you affirm that the work I do is meaningful and that the communities I represent deserve attention. By shining this light on me, you have illuminated the people who stand with me. I am sincerely grateful.
Thank you for this wonderful honor.
Journalist; Filmmaker (documentary); Educator