CAMBRIDGE (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and movie director/producer Steven Spielberg were among six people to receive Harvard University’s highest honor in the field of African and African-American studies.
Harvard honored its W.E.B. Du Bois medal winners at a ceremony yesterday. The medals have been awarded since 2000.
The Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research, which presents the medals, credited Sotomayor with being the first Latina to serve on the high court and for speaking frequently of her upbringing, helping to influence and inspire children trying to succeed in the face of adversity.
Sotomayor said she was “deeply humbled” by the award.
“I am always reminded and continue to remember that I never stand alone because I do stand on the shoulders ... of so many people in this room and everyone who preceded me to open the door of opportunity,” Sotomayor said. “I try to remember that paying forward is an obligation that I must not only undertake but that gives meaning to all our lives.”
The center cited Spielberg not only for his many filmmaking accomplishments, but also for his establishment of a foundation to record oral histories of those who survived the Holocaust and other genocides. Those include the Righteous Persons Foundation which provides grants to promote cooperation and cross-cultural understanding among ethnically and religiously diverse groups across America.
Spielberg, whose movie credits include “Lincoln” and “Amistad,” based on the 1839 mutiny of newly captured slaves, called the award “an incredible honor.”
“This is a laurel upon which I promise not to rest, but instead to keep moving uphill because nothing gets done unless we’re all going uphill,” Spielberg said. “When we get to the top maybe I’ll look down and say, well I earned it then.”
The medals were also given to senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, playwright Tony Kushner, Georgia civil rights activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, and NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Jarrett and Lewis were unable to attend the ceremony in Harvard’s Memorial Hall.
Among those presenting the awards were Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell.