Wilbur Lucius Cross 1885 GRD 1889 was a man of many talents: He was a professor of English, the first dean of the Yale Graduate School and a governor of Connecticut.

On Tuesday night, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, a university president, two MacArthur Foundation “Geniuses” and a Japanese senator were presented with the award that bares Cross’s name for outstanding achievement in one of his many fields.

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Before the private award ceremony Tuesday night in the Yale Center for British Art, the five honorees gave public lectures to professors and graduate students in their field.

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler praised the five notables for embodying the ideals of Cross.

“[Their] scholarship, research and careers demonstrate exemplary intellectual achievement,” he said. “They started at the Graduate School, and they have used it as a basis for the great things they are doing now.”

Last week, Nature magazine named “The Evolution of Cooperation” — written by political scientist Robert Axelrod GRD ’69, one of the honorees — a must-read for the next president of the United States. The book, one of several Axelrod has written, has amassed thousands of scholarly citations. He is a MacArthur Genius, a noted author and a past president of the American Political Science Association.

On Tuesday, he spoke about the future of political science. He discussed the changing nature of the field as globalization makes information more accessible and increases international involvement in the discipline.

On being honored with the prestigious medal, Axelrod said simply: “It’s a real honor.”

At the same time as Axelrod, Stephen G. Emerson MED ’80 GRD ’80, gave a lecture on “Irreversible Thermodynamics and Stem Cell Metaphors in the Immune System.”

Prior to assuming the reins as Haverford College’s 13th president in 2007, Emerson was a noted researcher in therapeutic uses of stem cells. The former cell biology and immunology graduate student has consistently been named one of Philadelphia’s “Top Docs” by Philadelphia Magazine.

He previously headed the hematology/oncology department at the University of Pennsylvania, where he built one of the nation’s leading treatment centers of leukemia and lymphoma.

Yesterday afternoon, Sen. Yorkio Kawaguchi GRD ’72 spoke on “Creating a Low-Carbon Society in Japan.”

Since she left Yale with a graduate degree in economics, Kawaguchi has amassed a curriculum vitae most would envy. Prior to assuming her current position as a representative in the House of Councilors of the Japanese Diet, Kawaguchi served as her country’s first female minister of state, as well as director general of the Japanese Environment Agency.

In July, she was appointed co-chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, a joint Japanese-Australian venture.

Before his talk on civil-military relations in the 21st-century United States, historian David M. Kennedy GRD ’68 chatted with Sterling professor emeritus of history John Blum, his thesis adviser while he was at Yale. Kennedy wrote his thesis on the contraception movement, which eventually became the Bancroft Prize-winning book “Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger.”

“He was a better historian than anyone who was teaching at Yale at the time he studied at Yale,” said Blum, who attended the talk in Linsley-Chittenden Hall with his wife. “One didn’t teach him so much as admire him. He worked, I applauded.”

Kennedy graduated with a doctorate in American studies.

Honoree Laura L. Kiessling GRD ’89 is renowned for merging chemistry and biology by designing and synthesizing replicas of natural molecules central to life processes. She is a professor at the University of Wisconsin, where she has worked since 1991.

She was unable to attend Tuesday’s ceremony because of a death in the family.

A committee — made up of the board of the Graduate School Alumni Association Executive Committee, the dean of the Graduate School and one faculty member from each the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences and biological sciences — reviewed alumni nominations offered by Graduate School departments.

Cross died in 1948.

—Caitlin Roman contributed reporting.