May 18th, 2014 | University

Yale awards honorary degrees

A handful of guests entered the Yale Center for British Art on Sunday evening to attend the University’s annual dinner celebrating the recipients of honorary degrees, unveiled each year at Commencement.

Tim Berners-Lee, credited with founding the World Wide Web, was escorted into the gallery shortly after 6 p.m. Less than half an hour later, Anna Deavere Smith — an actress, playwright and professor — entered as well. Rita Dove, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, was also in attendance.

Since the Commencement of 1702, Yale has awarded honorary degrees to recognize excellence in a diversity of fields, from the legal profession to the arts. Sonia Sotomayor LAW ’79, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, received the honor last year. The University prizes these degrees as “the highest honors conferred by Yale.”

A British computer scientist and engineer, Berners-Lee developed the idea for a web server at the end of the 1980s, while working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The first web client using Berners-Lee’s work was launched in 1991, linking hypertext documents into a system accessible via the Internet.

Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium in 1994 to oversee standards for web development. In 2009, he created the World Wide Web Foundation, which seeks to mobilize the information-sharing systems to advance social goals. Berners-Lee teaches in the School of Electronics and Computer Science at University of Southampton.

Smith is perhaps best known for her role as National Security Advisor Nancy McNally in the television series The West Wing, which ran until 2006. She also plays Gloria Akalitus in the Showtime series Nurse Jackie.

An author and playwright, Smith is currently the artist-in-residence at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. She also teaches at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and has held previous appointments at Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University. Her academic work includes the books “Letters to a Young Artist” and “Talk to Me: Listening Between the Lines.”

In 1996, Smith received a MacArthur fellowship — awarded for creative genius — and has received numerous honorary degrees, including from Wesleyan University and Northwestern University.

Dove was the first African American appointed as U.S. Poet Laureate. She received the Pulitzer Price for poetry in 1987. Her written work includes poetry collections, a play and a novel titled “Through the Ivory Gate.”

President Barack Obama awarded Dove the National Medal of Arts in 2011.

Correction: May 21

A previous version of this article misstated the years that Tim Berners-Lee developed the idea for the web server.