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Distinguished Alumni Award Winners

2018 - H. Rodes Hart, BA'54

rhodes hart

An extraordinary leader and philanthropist, H. Rodes Hart, BA’54, has helped position the university’s impact on society through education and has contributed to Vanderbilt’s ascendance among the nation’s elite universities.

Hart’s strong leadership helped steer the university through two historic transitions. As a member of the former George Peabody College for Teachers Board of Trust from 1967 to 1979, he played an integral role in the successful merger of Vanderbilt University and Peabody College. He then served until 2011 on the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, for which he sat on its Audit, Budget, Investment, Public and Government Relations, Medical Center Board, Buildings and Grounds, and Executive committees. From 2008 to 2011, he was chair of the highly successful Shape the Future Campaign, which raised a record $1.94 billion to further Vanderbilt’s missions of education, discovery and patient care.

Hart’s leadership is matched by his tremendous generosity. He has been a driving force behind Peabody’s service to society through education and human development. With a deep belief in the importance of a world-class faculty, he and his wife, Patricia Hart, BA’57, have endowed numerous faculty chairs, positioning Vanderbilt to attract and retain the best possible talent. They also have created scholarships that have helped the university recruit the most talented and diverse students. Peabody’s reputation as one of the nation’s premier colleges for preparing teachers and leaders is, in many ways, due to the Harts’ generosity and partnership.

The Harts are also stalwarts in the Nashville community. Their passion for the arts and numerous nonprofit organizations in Nashville is visible throughout the city and has contributed significantly to its enhanced national reputation.

2017 - Perry E. Wallce, BE'70

perry wallace

As the first African American varsity basketball player in the Southeastern Conference, Perry Wallace, BE’70, was a renowned figure in the American Civil Rights Movement.

His contributions on the court and the importance of his trailblazing career have been recognized through induction into the Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. His jersey was retired by Vanderbilt, he was named an SEC Living Legend and to the Silver Anniversary All-America team, and he was honored with the prestigious Michael L. Slive Distinguished Service Award.

For several years Wallace was a senior trial attorney at the United States Department of Justice, handling cases involving environmental, energy and natural resources law. He served a three-year term on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology. Wallace was a professor at Howard University and the University of Baltimore before joining American University’s Washington College of Law in 1993 as a law professor specializing in environmental law, corporate law and finance. He also served as the director of the university’s JD/MBA dual degree program.

 2016 - Richard B. Johnston Jr., BA'57, MD'61

richard johnston

Richard B. Johnston Jr., BA’57, MD’61, is a renowned immunologist and pediatrician who has dedicated his life’s work to improving the health of children.

As national medical director of the March of Dimes, Johnston led an effort that has significantly reduced birth defects such as spina bifida. After medical research found that consuming folic acid prior to and during the early stages of pregnancy reduced the occurrence of neural tube defects, Johnston led a national folic acid public awareness campaign. He brought the nation’s obstetrician-gynecologists, pediatricians and nurses together to enlighten and educate women of childbearing age of the importance of folic acid in preventing certain birth defects. His leadership ultimately led to the Food and Drug Administration’s 1998 ruling to add folic acid to America’s grain supply, which has since significantly reduced neural tube defects such as spina bifida in the United States.

2014 - Dr. Harold "Hal" Moses, MD'62, HO'62, HO'63

harold moses

Dr. Harold “Hal” Moses, MD’62, the Hortense B. Ingram Chair in Cancer Research at Vanderbilt University, is the recipient of the 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award—the highest honor for a member of the Vanderbilt alumni community. Moses is a highly acclaimed international lecturer and world-renowned scholar in the field of cancer biology.

Much of Moses’s research career has been related to cellular activity and growth in breast cancer and the crucial discoveries from his research team have served as building blocks for other cancer scientists. His achievements have also been recognized with the 2013 American Association of Cancer Research Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research, the Earl Sutherland Prize for Achievement in Research at Vanderbilt and the T.J. Martell Foundation Lifetime Achievement Medical Research Award.

2012 -Vice Admiral Nora Tyson, BA'79

nora tyson

RADM Nora Tyson, Vice Director of the Joint Staff, has dedicated her life to serving her country. Her naval career has helped ensure national security, while her efforts in international diplomacy have helped extend goodwill across the globe. Her 2010 appointment to lead the 80 combat aircraft and 13 ships of the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Strike Group Two distinguished her as the first woman in U.S. Navy history to be named commander of a carrier strike group. Her impressive naval career and leadership style elicits praise from superiors and subordinates alike. She has remained dedicated to the country’s  security and the young Americans she leads throughout her service. In addition to supporting Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and New Dawn in the Persian Gulf, she led the Navy’s initial relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, and the U. S. Navy’s exercise and engagement activities with our partners in Southeast Asia. 

2008 - Dr. Levi Watkins, MD'47

levi watkins

Dr. Levi Watkins, the first African American to be admitted to and graduate from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, has made great strides in improving healthcare, education and diversity on a global scale.  A groundbreaking cardiologist, he performed the world’s first human implantation of the automatic implantable defibrillator and later developed multiple innovative surgical techniques for implanting this device.  His commitment to racial equality has contributed to an increase in minority representation of over 400 percent at Johns Hopkins University, where he currently serves as a professor of cardiac surgery and associate dean of the school of medicine. His legacy at Vanderbilt University is marked by the annual Levi Watkins Jr. Lecture on Diversity in Medical Education, as well as the Levi Watkins, Jr. Professorship established in 2002 in his name.  

2007 - Carol Ann Etherington, MSN'75

carol etherington

Carol Etherington has devoted a lifetime of passion and energy to the advocacy of health and human rights. She has served as a catalyst for change and refuge for underserved and traumatized populations on local, national and global landscapes. Much of her work as a mental health expert has focused on creating effective community-based programs for individuals, families and communities who have survived natural disasters, war, crime or other abuses. Equally significant is her tireless commitment to educating and influencing the next generation of great nurses as an assistant professor of nursing at Vanderbilt University. Her strong belief that health and human rights are inextricably linked are shown in her lifetime achievement as a clinician, teacher and humanitarian. Truly, her knowledge and steadfast dedication have transformed our world.

2005 - The Reverend James M. Lawson, '71

james lawson

The Reverend Lawson has devoted a lifetime of passion and energy to being a catalyst for change, both through his ministry and his leadership in nonviolent action. For his indelible footprints in the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deemed him the foremost nonviolence theorist in the world. Equally significant is the Reverend Lawson’s continued advocacy and tireless commitment to organizing and mobilizing people for justice and peace around the globe. Truly, his influence in sowing the seeds of spiritual and moral revolution has transformed our world.



2004 - Dr. Mildred T. Stahlman, BA'43, MD'46, HO'48

mildred stahlman

Throughout a lifetime of indelible contributions to the field of medicine, Dr. Mildred Stahlman pioneered modern neonatal care across the United States and the world – revolutionizing the face of neonatal care in modern academic medical centers and, thus, changing the fate of countless newborns that would otherwise have had no future. An international expert on diseases of the newborn, she has spent her academic and professional career at Vanderbilt, creating the first modern neonatal intensive care unit in the country, initiating the Angel Transport mobile intensive care unit for newborns, developing overseas fellowship exchange programs, and continuing to research diverse methods to prevent and treat disease. Equally significant is her devotion to each Vanderbilt medical student and pediatric resident who has had the privilege of working under her demanding tutelage. And her belief in the power of education is illustrated through her quiet, generous philanthropy. Truly, her contributions to medicine, the field of ethics, and her community have transformed the world in which we live. 

2002 - Dr. Thomas Frist, BA'60, HO'65

thomas frist

Throughout a long and distinguished career in health care and business, Dr. Thomas Frist Jr. led a revolution in health care delivery across the United States and the world, providing exceptional medical care to millions of people. In bringing together the disciplines of medicine and business in his global company, Hospital Corporation of America, he has energized national and regional economies in new and important ways. Equally significant is his devotion to the common weal. His leadership nationally has challenged prevailing philanthropic wisdom. His founding of United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society has organized giving to help resolve some of society’s most difficult problems. His vision of a better, more humane world truly has transformed the places in which so many live and work.

2000 - Dr. Antonio Gotto, BA'57, MD'65

antonio gotto

Dean of Cornell University Medical College.





1999 - Delbert Mann, BA'41

delbert mann

Oscar-winning director.





1998 - Cal Turner Jr., BA'62

cal turner

Former Dollar General CEO.





1997 - Dr. Norman E. Shumway, MD'49

norman shumway

Pioneer in heart transplants.





1996 - Muhammad Yunus, PhD'71

muhammad yunus

Nobel Prize winning Bangladeshi banker.






To learn more, and to nominate a deserving alumnus/na, visit our Awards Page