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International Humanitarian Amma Receives SUNY Honorary Degree at UB

Chancellor of India's Amrita University recognized for more than 30 years of commitment to education, humanitarian service

Release Date: May 26, 2010

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Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, chancellor of Amrita University and a beloved humanitarian and spiritual leader, is the recipient of a SUNY Doctor of Humane Letters degree awarded in a ceremony at UB.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, chancellor of India's Amrita University, received a State University of New York Doctor of Humane Letters degree at a conferral ceremony May 25 in Slee Hall on the University at Buffalo North Campus.

Affectionately known as Amma, she is recognized around the world for the humanitarian institutions and services she has inspired and supported over a span of three decades.

She is the founder and chancellor of Amrita University, a leading private university in India with five campuses in three southern Indian states.

UB President John B. Simpson and SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin awarded the honorary degree during a colorful ceremony that included original music composed for the event, an Indian classical dance performance, a video presentation of Amma's international work, and music performed on UB's C.B. Fisk organ, one of the premiere teaching organs on the East Coast.

"Through her leadership of Amrita University as well as through her humanitarian work, Chancellor Amma exemplifies the value of international collaboration and dedicated public service in the global arena," said Simpson.

"Her personal example and leadership demonstrate the critical importance of international and cross-cultural cooperation, exchange and dialogue, and it is that spirit we honor Amma with the conferral of the SUNY Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters."

Since 2006, UB has partnered with Amrita University on collaborative activities that include dual-master's degree programs in management and computer science designed to help fulfill India's emerging need for highly trained managers in information technology-enabled services. Additional programs in medicine and social work are in development.

"Because of Chancellor Amma's vision, thoughtful leadership and commitment to academic excellence, the University at Buffalo and Amrita University faculty and students have benefitted from an ambitious educational and research partnership," said UB Provost Satish K. Tripathi.

"As the UB/Amrita partnership has grown, I know it has been largely due to Amma's behind the scenes role in nurturing and encouraging our institutional relationship. From the beginning, she has seen the potential of this partnership for the benefit of our respective universities and our faculty and students.

"Moreover, in these challenging times, it is heartening to know that our students' worldview and life approach are expanded and enriched through their appreciation of the transformational impact of global humanitarian work which is modeled exquisitely by Chancellor Amma."

Amma's SUNY honorary degree recognizes her extraordinary humanitarian service and commitment to expanding educational opportunities and international cooperation, noted Stephen Dunnett, UB professor and provost for international education.

"Amma has been a leader in expanding educational opportunity in India, particularly through the establishment of Amrita University, which in its first 15 years has become one of the most distinguished private universities in India," Dunnett said. "She also is a strong proponent of Amrita's expanding cooperation with U.S. institutions of higher education and she has placed particular emphasis on the connection to UB, which has borne fruit in a number of ways."

In addition to her commitment to education, Amma is the founder of Mata Amritanandamayi Math (MAM), a humanitarian organization headquartered in Kerala, India, that oversees her charitable activities in India and other nations, which include providing free food and clothing programs for the needy, charitable hospitals, hospices, free homes to the poor, orphanages, schools and environmental-conservation programs, among others.

In 2004, Amma was among the first to set up relief efforts for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Her Amrita Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Project provided food, clothing, medical assistance, temporary and permanent housing, job training and other assistance to victims living in India and Sri Lanka.

She is the recipient of numerous honors, including the James Park Morton Interfaith Award of the Interfaith Center of New York and the Gandhi-King Award for Non-Violence presented by the World Movement for Non-Violence.

The degree conferral ceremony included the processional "Dance of the Gods -- with Pomp and Circumstance," original music composed for the occasion by Rahul Raj, a young composer from South India, that featured Eastern and Western musical influences and traditional Indian instruments, along with traditional Western orchestral instruments.

The ceremony also featured an organ performance by Roland Martin, adjunct instructor of music, who performed "Offertoire," composed by Francois Couperin.

The program closed with a performance of Indian Classical dance, "Vagadhiswari," which blends two traditional forms of Indian dance. It was choreographed by Tejaswini Rao and performed by the dancers from the Natya School of Indian Classical Dance in Buffalo, which is directed by Rao.

SUNY honorary degrees -- proposed by UB and approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees -- represent the highest form of recognition accorded by SUNY, and are presented to individuals of exceptional distinction, who have made contributions not only in their own field, but have directly benefited SUNY and its member campuses.

Past recipients of SUNY honorary degrees at UB have included His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Irene Zubaida Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International; Herbert Hauptman, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry; John Coetzee, Nobel Laureate in Literature; Philip Glass, distinguished American composer; and Jane Goodall, internationally acclaimed primatologist and educator.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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