Pulitzer Prize winner Marcus Yam to receive Norton Medal at UB commencement

Release Date: May 15, 2023


BUFFALO, N.Y. – University at Buffalo alumnus Marcus Yam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, will receive the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, UB’s highest honor.

Norton Medal recipients, along with the President’s Medal and SUNY honorary doctorate awardees, are announced as part of commencement season at UB, which this year began April 28 and concludes this weekend.

Yam will receive the Norton Medal on Saturday, May 20, at the first of two School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ graduate commencement ceremonies.

Yam came to UB from his home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. Although he aspired to become a NASA astronaut, he discovered his passion for photography during a stint at UB’s student newspaper, The Spectrum, and an internship with The Buffalo News.

In 2022, Yam won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for images documenting the U.S. departure from Afghanistan. In 2016, he was part of the L.A. Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning news team that covered the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack. In 2015, as a photojournalist for the Seattle Times, he shared the Pulitzer for breaking news reporting of the deadly landslide in Oso, Washington.

His conflict reporting is widely recognized. In 2023, Yam was named a recipient of the Robert Capa Gold Medal for his courage and enterprise while photographing the devastation of the war in Ukraine with nuance and poetry. Yam is also a two-time recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Journalism Award, including in 2019 for his unflinching photos documenting the everyday plight of citizens during deadly clashes in the Gaza Strip.

His work has also earned him an Emmy Award for News and Documentary, a World Press Photo Award, a DART Award for Trauma Coverage, a Scripps Howard Visual Journalism Award, Picture of the Year International’s Newspaper Photographer of the Year Award, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award, National Headliner Award, the Society of Publishers in Asia Award and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award.

Throughout his career, Yam has brought his viewers to the frontlines of conflict, struggle and intimacy. He credits his analytical, technical approach to photography to his UB education in engineering.

Oren Lyons to receive President’s Medal

Oren R. Lyons, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of American Studies, will receive the President’s Medal in recognition of extraordinary service to the university during the College of Arts and Sciences’ graduate ceremony on Friday, May 19.

The UB President’s Medal, first presented in 1990, recognizes “outstanding scholarly or artistic achievements, humanitarian acts, contributions of time or treasure, exemplary leadership or any other major contribution to the development of the University at Buffalo and the quality of life in the UB community.”

A member of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Lyons was a UB faculty member for nearly 40 years and was a founder and director of the Native American Studies Program.

As an artist, author, environmentalist and activist, he has dedicated most of his life to advocating for the rights of Indigenous peoples. He was a leader in the Trail of Broken Treaties, the 1972 caravan to Washington, D.C., to convince the Bureau of Indian Affairs to honor federal treaties. In 1977, he was part of the Haudenosaunee delegation of Iroquois representatives to the first World Conference on Racism. In 1982, he helped establish the United Nations’ Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Ten years later, he addressed the General Assembly of the U.N., opening the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

In 1993, Lyons was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. In 2022, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, one of the country’s most prestigious honorary societies.

SUNY honorary doctorate awarded to Agnes Williams

Also during the College of Arts and Sciences’ graduate ceremony on Friday, UB alumna Agnes Williams, an internationally regarded advocate for Indigenous rights and environmental justice, will be awarded a SUNY Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

From assisting youth impacted by the Indian Relocation Act to helping organize the Longest Walk, Williams has remained a steadfast voice for Indigenous communities.

A citizen of the Seneca Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Williams earned her BA, BSW and MSW from Syracuse University. From there, she directed the Urban Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, Calif., becoming involved in issues including the occupation of Wounded Knee, the forced sterilization of Indigenous women and the encroachment of nuclear waste on sacred land. In 1983, Williams called for the halt of nuclear weapon development at the World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs.

Returning to Western New York in 1985, Williams served as a family counselor with Child and Family Services of Buffalo, a correction counselor with the Department of Corrections, education director for the Seneca Nation of Indians, family counselor for the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation Health Center and coordinator of Buffalo’s Indigenous Women’s Initiatives.

She also served on the founding Central Committee of Women of all Red Nations, helped found the Indigenous Women’s Network and was appointed to the Seneca Nation of Indians Climate Change Task Force. Her participation in the delegation to the United Nations started the course that would lead to the 2007 Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Williams, MA ’91, has been closely affiliated with UB for decades, particularly with the Native American Studies program and its founders. A graduate of the program, she has participated in activities including UB’s Haudenosaunee Native American Research Group and was instrumental in the development of UB’s new Department of Indigenous Studies.

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