Portraiture Nominations to Honor Great Princetonians

At the beginning of the school year, the University established a Portraiture Nomination Committee to designate ten individuals to be honored with a portrait on campus. The most recent formal expansion of the University portrait collection took place in the mid-nineteenth century under the presidency of John Maclean, and this new initiative will reflect a more diverse alumni base and celebrate the achievements of relatively recent graduates.

Portraits celebrate individuals and their achievements that current Princetonians can look up to. They also signal a set of values that the University endorses. The choice of portraits is not just an aesthetic question of interior design, but also a fundamental examination of the principles for which the University stands.  

The Board applauds the procedure by which the University has opted to select portraits.  A committee that is entrusted to select ten portraits will likely produce better outcomes than haphazardly selecting portraits one by one. Further, inviting suggestions from the public through a form allows the committee’s decisions to be informed by public input as opposed to the internal preferences of University administrators.

We generally agree with the principles that the Portrait Nomination Committee has outlined (association with Princeton, demonstration with excellence, and representation of diversity), though we question the focus on individuals who graduated in the past 75 years. Since the University last updated its portrait collection about 150 years ago, there is a glaring gap in alumni who would be ineligible for recognition.

We urge all members of the Princeton community to nominate worthy alumni through the nomination form. We have included below the biographies of eight Princeton alumni whose achievements reflect the diversity of contributions across career paths and industries that Princetonians have made “in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.” Their accomplishments are worth celebrating, and we hope that you will enjoy reading about them and consider submitting their names to the Portraiture Nomination Committee.

Moe Berg ’23 had a long career in Major League Baseball before becoming a spy in the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. After graduating from Princeton, Berg played for the Brooklyn Robins, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, and Boston Red Sox. During World War II, Berg worked covertly with resistance groups in Yugoslavia and interviewing physicists across occupied Europe. In 1945, Berg was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, reflecting Berg’s excellence in the nation’s service.

George Kennan ’25 was a diplomat whose “Long Telegram” formulated the containment policy, a principal US strategy during the Cold War. Following World War II, as the United States policymakers debated US-Soviet relations, Kennan’s viewpoints helped establish the foundation of a confrontational foreign policy. Kennan spent the later half of his career at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton.

Jimmy Stewart ’32, who honed his acting skills with the Princeton Triangle Club, starred in numerous films, including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life, Harvey, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Stewart served as a pilot during World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.

Alan Turing *38 came to prominence during World War II, where he worked at Bletchley Park and played a key role in deciphering German cypher. His work afforded the Allies a major advantage during the conflict. Following the war, Turing worked on the first stored-program computer. He is considered the father of modern computing.

John Nash *50 was a mathematician whose contributions to game theory, including the famous Nash Equilibrium, have greatly influenced the study of economics. Nash received the John Von Neumann Theory Prize of 1978 for his discovery on the Nash Equilibrium, the Nobel Prize in Economics of 1994 for his work on game theory, and the 2015 Abel Prize. Nash was a constant presence on Princeton’s campus for decades, and the film about his work, A Beautiful Mind, is one of the most famous cinematographic depictions of Princeton.

Robert “Bob” Johnson *72 co-founded Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1980. In 1991, Johnson took BET public; it was the first company owned by an African-American to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Johnson became the first African-American billionaire, reflecting his tremendous business success. Johnson is also a prominent philanthropist; for example in 2007 he founded the Liberia Enterprise Development Fund, which provides loans to support  Liberian entrepreneurs.

Terri Sewell '86 currently serves as the Congresswoman from Alabama's 7th District. She was the first black woman elected to Congress from Alabama and serves on the Intelligence and Ways and Means Committees. While at Princeton, Congresswoman Sewell was Vice President of her class and worked with the Admissions Office to establish a Minority Student Recruitment office. Congresswoman Sewell also received a Marshall Scholarship to study at Oxford and received her law degree from Harvard.

Wendy Kopp ’89 founded Teach for America, a nonprofit based on Kopp’s senior thesis that recruits promising college graduates to work in underprivileged communities. Teach For America steered students towards a form of public service that they otherwise might never have contemplated. It helped underscore the importance of education as a policy priority, particularly with its emphasis on bridging achievement gaps between prosperous and impoverished communities.

The Board believes the above Princetonians are worthy of recognition. The Portraiture Nomination Committee’s work will be most effective with ample participation from the broader community. We urge all students to read about prominent Princetonians from all walks of life, and to submit their suggestions to the Committee.