campus news

Yam to receive Norton Medal at UB commencement

Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal.

The Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal is UB’s highest honor.


Published April 28, 2023


UB alumnus Marcus Yam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, will be awarded the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, UB’s highest honor, during the university’s 2023 commencement ceremonies being held April 28 through May 21.

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.

Also this commencement season, a SUNY honorary doctorate will be presented to UB alumna Agnes Williams, an internationally regarded advocate for Indigenous rights and environmental justice.

The Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal is presented annually in public recognition of a person who has, in Norton’s words, “performed some great thing which is identified with Buffalo … a great civic or political act, a great book, a great work of art, a great scientific achievement or any other thing which, in itself, is truly great and ennobling, and which dignifies the performer and Buffalo in the eyes of the world.”

Marcus Yam.

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

A three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, Yam is a roving foreign correspondent and photographer for the Los Angeles Times. He 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.

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.”

Oren Lyons.

The President’s Medal will be presented to Oren R. Lyons at the College of Arts and Sciences’ graduate ceremony on May 19.

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.

Lyons is a founder of the Traditional Circle of Indian Elders, the grassroots council of the major Indian nations of North America. A veteran of the Korean War, he earned a BFA from Syracuse University, where he was an All-American lacrosse player. He went on to a successful career in commercial art for a New York City greeting card company before returning to his ancestral homeland to serve as a faithkeeper, entrusted with keeping alive his people’s traditions, values and history.

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.

Agnes F. Williams.

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

She will receive a SUNY Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at the College of Arts and Sciences’ graduate ceremony on May 19.

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.