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Leading humanist and renowned political scientist, Robert Putnam, selected as Claremont McKenna College’s 2023 Commencement speaker

Claremont McKenna College (CMC) will celebrate its 75th Commencement ceremony and the Class of 2023 on May 13, with leading humanist and renowned political scientist, Robert Putnam, offering the keynote address.

Putnam, who has been called the “poet laureate of civil society,” is the author of the influential and groundbreaking book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Published in 2000, Bowling Alone documents Americans growing apart and is frequently cited in studies and articles about the rise in American loneliness and decline in social health.

Putnam, who is the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy, Emeritus at Harvard University and former dean of the Kennedy School of Government, is one of the most influential academics of the past quarter century. He has undergone a decades-long quest to understand what happened to America and to figure out what it will take to weave us back together. At Harvard, Putnam taught international relations, comparative politics, and American politics, including a seminar discussing “Community in America.”

Amari Huang ’23, CMC’s Senior Class President, said Putnam’s seminal works, in particular, Bowling Alone, greatly influenced her academic career, along with many of her peers. In the College’s invitation to Putnam, Huang explained: “Claremont McKenna College’s campus has been our unique home where we have been able to encapsulate Putnam’s vision of an America where people come together to transcend their differences to create a community for everyone. CMC is special because of the immense social capital each member of the campus seeks to build here—and will continue to build after we graduate.” 

“Amari said it best. Putnam’s working hypothesis finds a powerful laboratory outcome in CMC’s approach to liberal arts learning and leadership development,” said CMC President Hiram E. Chodosh. “At CMC, we believe in social exchange over big questions and ideas, multiple lenses brought into focus through constructive dialogue, and the value of finding purpose through community and play. Putnam inspires us to sustain our commitment to bowl together.”

In 2006, Putnam won the Skytte Prize, the world’s most prestigious accolade for a political scientist. President Barack Obama awarded him a 2012 National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for contributions to the humanities, for “deepening our understanding of community in America,” and in 2018, the International Political Science Association awarded him the Karl Deutsch Award for cross-disciplinary research. His counsel has been sought by national, international, and grassroots leaders on both sides of the aisle, including Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, as well as British Prime Ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron. Putnam is the recipient of 16 honorary degrees from eight countries, including from the University of Oxford in 2018.

Before joining Harvard in 1979, Putnam taught at the University of Michigan, served on the staff of the U.S. National Security Council, and was an associate dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard and director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. He co-founded the Saguaro Seminar, bringing together leading thinkers and practitioners to develop actionable ideas for civic renewal.

Putnam has written 15 books, translated into 20 languages, including Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Italy and Bowling Alone, both among the most cited (and bestselling) social science works in the last half-century. His most recent bestseller, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, chronicled the growing class gap among American youth. In 2020, Putnam completed a study of 20th-century American economic, social, political, and cultural trends for his book, The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again.

Putnam is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the British Academy, and past president of the American Political Science Association.

2023 CMC Commencement ceremony schedule and details.

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