Distinguished Alumni Award

The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools recognize and honor one graduate each year with the Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna Award. The Award is the highest honor the Laboratory Schools bestow upon an outstanding alumna or alumnus, and it celebrates the accomplishments of exceptional alumni whose professional achievements, personal lives, public or civic service, philanthropic or volunteer endeavors reflect on society through dedication and meritorious accomplishments.

The 2016 Distinguished Alumna Award Winner:

Margo Jefferson, ’64

Margo Jefferson is an arts and culture critic. Her Chicago-based memoir,Negroland, won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography. Her first book, On Michael Jackson, was published in 2005. She was a book critic for Newsweek from 1973 to 1978 and a book, theater, and cultural critic for The New York Times from 1993 to 2005. She received a Pulitzer Prize in 1995. Her reviews and essays have appeared inBeliever, Bookforum, New York, The Washington Post, Salon, The Nation,Grand Street, New York Magazine, Vogue, and O, the Oprah Magazine.They have also been anthologized in The Best American Essays: 2015; Best African American Essays: 2010; The Mrs. Dalloway Reader; The Jazz Cadence of American Culture;and elsewhere.

Jefferson’s interest in theater led her to write and perform two pieces at the Cherry Lane Theatre and the Culture Project in New York: An Evening with Phillis and Harriet, a collaboration with her niece, Francesca Harper, and Sixty Minutes in Negroland, a solo piece.

A graduate of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, she received a bachelor of arts from Brandeis University and a master of science from Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

Past winners of the award are:


Susan Landau Axelrod, '70

Susan Axelrod is Founding Chair of CURE (Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy). Susan has served on the National Institute of Health's National Advisory Neurological Disorders and Stroke Council and as a consumer reviewer for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program within the Department of Defense. In 2014, she was elected to the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities where she advises the President of the United States and Secretary of Health and Human Services on a broad range of topics that impact people with intellectual disabilities.


Diane Meier, '69
Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and Catherine Gaisman Professor of Medical Ethics. At the Mount Sinai Medical Center, she serves as the vice chair for public policy, and was the founder and director of the Hertzberg Palliative Care Institute. Dr. Meier was named one of 20 People Who make Healthcare Better in the United States by HealthLeaders Media in 2010, and received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2008.


Andrea Ghez, '83
2012 winner of the Crafoord Prize for her research on Sagittarius A*, and a 2008 MacArthur Genuis Award recipient for her work in surmounting the limitations of earthbound telescopes. Holds the Lauren B. Leichtman & Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where she is also a professor of physics and astronomy.


Hal Higdon, ’47
Athlete/writer, author of 36 books including the best-selling Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, in multiple editions. Writes for all ages. His children's book, The Horse That Played Center Field, became an animated feature on ABC-TV. He is the longest serving contributor to Runner's World– since 1966.

Peter Kovler, ’69
Philanthropist, Chairman of the Board of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Center for National Policy, and the Kovler Foundations, former journalist. He became Chair of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Centennial Committee in his late twenties, leading to the 1997 opening of the FDR Memorial In Washington, DC.


Ben Heineman, Jr., ’61
GE's Senior VP-General Counsel 1987 to 2003, then Senior VP for Law and Public Affairs, he championed ethical reform for the world’s corporate lawyers, calling for “lawyer-statesmen.” Sr. Fellow at Harvard Law’s Program on the Legal Profession and its Kennedy School Center for Science and International Affairs.


Lynn Margulis, '54
Pioneering biologist, her “endosymbiotic theory”, showing non-Darwinian “cooperation, not competition” evolution of some life forms, transformed orthodoxy despite long resistance. Elected to the National Academy of Sciences1983, and honored in 1999 with the National Medal of Science.


Denise Jefferson, ’61
American Dance Educator, admired worldwide, who diligently scouted talent around the globe to bring to the Alvin Ailey School of Dance in New York, of which she was Director from 1984 till her death in 2010. She left an acclaimed career as dancer to become a leader in educating a new generation of dancers.


Bill Blakemore, ’61
Veteran foreign and domestic ABC News correspondent and Rome Bureau Chief; covered a dozen wars and major conflicts, the 27-year papacy of John Paul 2, and US Education reform, winning many awards. Starting in 2004, he spear-headed ABC’s multi-platform broadcast and digital coverage of global warming.


Arne Duncan, ’82
Appointed US Secretary of Education in 2009; previously was Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Public Schools system. He is a noted civic leader and proponent for children.


John Paul Stevens, ’37
United States Supreme Court Justice. One of the longest serving on the nation’s highest court, he was appointed to the Court by President Gerald Ford in 1975.


Ned Rorem, ’40
Noted American composer and diarist. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his suite Air Music and is also a Grammy Award winner and recipient of Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships.

Janet Rowley, ’42
Clinical medical researcher who was the first to identify a chromosomal translocation as a cause of leukemia and other cancers; she was a recipient of the National Medal of Science in 1999 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.


Barbara Flynn Currie, ’58
Illinois state senator for the 25th District; she was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1979.

Jess Levine, ’62
Longtime educator and consultant, as well as an outstanding volunteer to the Laboratory Schools.


John W. Rogers, Jr., ’76
Founder and chief executive officer of Ariel Capital Investments, which is the largest black-owned investment firm in the United States. John Rogers is also a noted civic leader and Chair of the Laboratory Schools Board of Directors.

Walter J. Blum, ’35
Prominent tax lawyer and corporate finance specialist who held the Edward Levi Distinguished Service Professorship at the University of Chicago.


Sherry Lansing, ’62
Became President of 20th Century Fox in 1980 - the first woman to head a major Hollywood movie studio - and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures. Films she supervised include Titanic and Forrest Gump; her charitable work is honored by an Academy of Arts and Sciences Humanitarian Award.


Garrick Utley, ’56
Network television correspondent and anchor of the NBC Nightly News . He also worked for ABC News and CNN, and was a moderator of Meet the Press.


Paul Nitze, ’23
Secretary of the Navy from 1963 to 1967 and special adviser to President Ronald Reagan, he also served as Secretary of State on Arms Control and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Reagan in 1985.


Edward Levi, ’28
American academic leader, scholar, and statesman, Levi was appointed the 71st Attorney General of the United States by President Gerald Ford and previously served as president of the University of Chicago from 1968 to 1975.