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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

5 receive 2018 Distinguished Alumni Awards

The following five Tar Heels received Distinguished Alumni Awards at University Day.

Chancellor Carol L. Folt with the five Distinguished Alumni Award recipients at the University Day celebration at Memorial Hall. From left, they are Robert L. Bryant, Vaughn D. Bryson, Donald A. Baer, Catherine “Tift” Merritt, Edward Kidder Graham Faculty Service Award recipient, Bland Simpson and  Peter Blair Henry.


Donald A. Baer

Donald A. Baer is chairman of the global strategic communications firm Burson Cohn & Wolfe. From 2012 to 2018, he was chair and CEO of its predecessor firm, Burson-Marsteller, where he had served as vice chair since 2008. Previously, Baer was senior executive vice president for strategy and development at the global media company Discovery Communications. From 1994 to 1998, he was an assistant to President Bill Clinton, serving as White House communications director and, before that, as chief speechwriter and director of speechwriting and research. Currently, Baer serves as chair of the Board of Directors of the Public Broadcasting Service. He is also a board member for the publicly traded Meredith Corp. and the nonprofit Urban Institute. Baer previously served as a member of Carolina’s Board of Visitors and General Alumni Association Board of Trustees. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Carolina, Baer earned a master’s degree as a Rotary International Scholar from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Robert L. Bryant

Robert L. Bryant is the Phillip Griffiths Professor of Mathematics at Duke University. Previously he served on the faculties of Rice University and the University of California at Berkeley. He was formerly the director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley and is a past president of the American Mathematical Society. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Bryant’s research in differential geometry has had applications in the study of minimal surfaces, the calculus of variations, and, especially, the geometry of spaces with exceptional holonomy, an area of mathematics that, in recent years, has become important in constructing models of theoretical high-energy particle physics. Bryant earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from North Carolina State University. While a graduate student at Carolina, he was a founding member and, later, organizer of Triangle Gay Scientists.

Vaughn D. Bryson

Vaughn D. Bryson worked at Eli Lilly and Co. for 32 years, concluding his career as president and CEO in 1993. He later served as vice chairman of Vector Securities International, a private healthcare-focused investment banking firm in Chicago. He was also president of Life Science Advisors, a healthcare consulting organization, and president of Clinical Products, a medical foods company. Bryson has served on the boards of directors of more than 20 companies. Bryson’s service to Carolina has included terms on the Dean’s Advisory Board of the School of Pharmacy and on the Board of the General Alumni Association, including one term as chairman. In addition, Bryson served on the Carolina First Campaign Steering Committee, and he is a recipient of the Board of Trustees’ William Richardson Davie Award and the General Alumni Association Distinguished Service Medal. Bryson is a graduate of the Sloan Program at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Peter B. Henry

Peter B. Henry is dean emeritus of New York University’s Stern School of Business, where he holds the William R. Berkley Professorship of Economics and Finance. Formerly the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of International Economics at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, Henry is the author of Turnaround: Third World Lessons for First World Growth. In 2008, Henry led Barack Obama’s Presidential Transition Team in its review of international lending agencies such as the IMF and World Bank. A member of the board of the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Economic Club of New York, Henry also serves on the boards of Citigroup and Nike. In 2015, Henry received the Foreign Policy Association Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the organization. A native of Jamaica who became a U.S. citizen in 1986, Henry was honored in 2016 as one of the Carnegie Foundation’s Great Immigrants. Henry holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Oxford University and a doctorate in economics from MIT.

Catherine “Tift” Merritt

Catherine “Tift” Merritt is a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter who began her career in local venues such as Cat’s Cradle and The Cave and soon began appearing on top-10 lists in The New Yorker and Time. Since starting a band while a creative writing student at Carolina, Merritt has released a unique, critically acclaimed body of work including seven albums of original material and three live records. Merritt has been compared to Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris and has been covered by Don Henley. In her nearly 20-year career, Merritt has toured the world and shared the stage with artists as varied as Iron & Wine, Nick Lowe and Jason Isbell. She collaborated with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein on the album Night and played harmonic foil and rhythm guitar for Andrew Bird in his old-time band Hands of Glory. Most recently, Merritt has been a regular contributor to the Oxford American, chronicling her 2017 tours with her young daughter, Jean.