Leebron to receive Alumni Award of Merit

Leebron to receive Alumni Award of Merit

Rice News staff

Rice President David Leebron has been honored by William Penn Charter School, the high school he attended in Philadelphia, with its Alumni Award of Merit.

The award, to be presented at a ceremony May 1, is given to Penn Charter graduates whose character and outstanding achievement have brought honor to the school, the oldest Quaker school in the world.

Leebron attended the college-preparatory school from seventh through 12th grade. “I could not overstate my gratitude for the education I received,” he said. “I had some great teachers and really enjoyed the range of classes, especially biology, German, history and English literature. These teachers imparted their enthusiasm and their intellectual curiosity.


“And who can forget their first dissection and the smell of formaldehyde?” he asked.

He recalls attending a Quaker meeting every Thursday. “Some of the spontaneous remarks of my classmates were memorable,” he said, “and I did really appreciate many of the Quaker values.”

Penn Charter introduced Leebron to computer programming in the eighth grade. “I wrote some truly pointless programs, but it was a challenge and fun,” he said. Junior high also gave Leebron his first — and only — experience playing football, but he really enjoyed squash.

He said one of the most important experiences at Penn Charter was the opportunity to spend half a year as an exchange student in Germany. “At the age of 17, I was able to travel all around Europe with just a friend.”

As a student at Penn Charter, Leebron didn’t anticipate the career path that he eventually followed. “I was quite confident I was going to be a rock star,” he quipped. “Seriously, I did think about going to law school, but never thought I would choose to be an academic or an academic leader.”

He cited the school’s motto — “Good instruction is better than riches” — as an inspiration for his teaching career.

Leebron graduated from Penn Charter in 1973 and is the youngest of the current recipients of the Alumni Award of Merit, which was established in 1947.

His name will be added to a plaque in the school’s Meeting Room that lists previous recipients of the award. Among them are J. Presper Eckert, who invented the first general-purpose electronic digital computer; Irénée du Pont, former president of the DuPont Co.; Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of National Intelligence for the federal government; and David Riesman, the sociologist who wrote “The Lonely Crowd,” published in 1950 and considered a landmark study of American character.

After graduating from Penn Charter, Leebron attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he was elected president of the Law Review in his second year. He served as a law clerk on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Los Angeles and taught at the UCLA and NYU law schools before joining the faculty of Columbia University’s School of Law in 1989. He was appointed dean of the law school and the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law in 1996. He left that deanship to become Rice University’s seventh president in 2004.

Leebron will be joined by his mother and other members of his family at the award presentation at Penn Charter next week.


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