Honoring Innovators and Activists

Poet and Commencement speaker Sarah Kay and three distinguished Grinnell College alumni

Sarah Kay received a doctor of humane letters for expanding the reach and power of spoken word poetry. She began performing at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York at age 14 and was a featured performer at the 2004 World Youth Report at the United Nations. In 2006, she was the youngest competitor in the National Poetry Slam. She appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam; performed at Lincoln Center and the Tribeca Film Festival; and was featured in Wired, Inc., Poets & Writers, and other publications. Through her Project VOICE, she has taught thousands of children and young adults to create spoken word poetry. 

David Abarr ’83, a fourth-grade math, science, and social studies teacher at Davis Elementary School in Grinnell, received a doctor of science for helping his students develop a love of learning through his enthusiastic teaching. Every year, he brings a portable planetarium to school to teach all Davis School students about astronomy. Through his work with the school’s curriculum advisory committee, he has strengthened science and math coursework throughout the Davis School. Abarr received a Golden Apple Award for outstanding teaching from WHO-TV, was recognized by the Governor’s Scholar Recognition Program, and was honored by the Belin-Blank Center Teacher Recognition Ceremony at the University of Iowa. 

Nathaniel Borenstein ’80 received a doctor of science for technical innovation and commitment to justice and peace. A math and religious studies major with a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University, Borenstein developed the MIME protocol for email attachments; co-founded First Virtual Holdings, the world’s first “cyberbank”; started NetPOS.com; wrote three books, including Programming As If People Mattered; developed metamail and Safe-Tcl software; and is chief scientist for Mimecast. He has received the New York University Olive Branch Award, is past president of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, and was primary author of the One Planet, One Net campaign. He is frequently listed among the world’s famous vegetarians.

Bonnie Tinker ’69 received a doctor of laws for a lifetime of social justice work. A theatre major, she protested the College’s policy of comprehensive exams and as a result never received her diploma. She co-founded Red Emma, a free health clinic and halfway house; was founding director of the first West Coast battered women’s shelter; was first chair of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; created a documentary about lesbian and gay marriage called Love Makes a Family; and founded an organization dedicated to LGBT marriage and family equality. Just before her death in a bicycle accident in 2009, she presented a workshop on nonviolent change. Her son, Alexander Tinker, accepted the award on her behalf.

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