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Ashton Carter, former United States Secretary of Defense, is awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws during the Phase I ceremony of Tufts University's 162nd Commencement on Sunday, May 20, 2018. (Alonso Nichols /Tufts University)


For more than thirty-five years, you have devoted yourself to making our nation safer, with a record of accomplishment that led to your appointment as the twenty-fifth United States secretary of defense. In Republican and Democratic administrations alike, you have focused your intelligence and your understanding of science and technology on the critical issues of international security. Whether overseeing the removal of nuclear weapons from former Soviet states, or revamping cyber strategy for the Department of Defense, you have maintained a clear-eyed focus on protecting your fellow Americans. As secretary of defense from 2015 to 2017, you memorably challenged the Pentagon to think “outside its five-sided box.” You made it a priority to forge more effective protections against threats such as terrorism and cyberattacks, and to keep America’s all-volunteer military force the world’s finest. For your dedication to ensuring our national security, Tufts University confers upon you the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.


For more than thirty-five years, ASHTON B. CARTER has served in government under both Republican and Democratic presidents, culminating with his appointment as the twenty-fifth secretary of defense for the United States. In a 2016 interview, Carter said, “When I talk to people about national defense, they need to know it’s a deadly serious business; it’s not a game, it’s an essential thing to do. But I also want them to know how wonderful it is to be part of something bigger than yourself . . . doing something good that is about all of us together.” Carter has embodied that attitude throughout his career, answering the call of public service and harnessing his understanding of science, technology, and international security to make the United States a safer place.

Carter first drew the attention of national leaders while at MIT when he authored a 1984 government paper about then-President Reagan’s space-based missile defense plan, known as the Star Wars program, concluding that the effort would not be capable of protecting against a nuclear attack. Such fearless examination of the science behind a policy is characteristic of Carter, who is known for his wide-ranging intelligence and for being an independent thinker unafraid of authorities.

A Philadelphia native born in 1954, Carter double-majored in physics and medieval history at Yale, graduating summa cum laude in 1976. He earned his doctorate in theoretical physics in 1979, on a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford. Following his fellowship at MIT, he was hired by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he taught for many years, alternating work in academia with stints in the nation’s capital.

Carter focused on nuclear weapons policy and the former Soviet states while serving as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy from 1993 to 1996, overseeing the program that removed nuclear weapons from Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. While he was under-secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, from 2009 to 2011, he instituted a program to make government purchasing smarter and led the development and production of thousands of mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles that saved soldiers’ lives. He served as deputy secretary of defense from 2011 to 2013, overseeing an annual budget of more than $600 billion and a staff of more than three million civilian and military personnel.

As secretary of defense from 2015 to 2017, Carter challenged the Pentagon to think “outside its five-sided box,” both in how it fought adversaries and how it managed its own resources and partnerships. His security priorities included directing the department’s fight against ISIS, designing its pivot to the Asia-Pacific region and response to Russian aggression, and revamping its cyber strategy. As part of a wide-ranging program to offset technological progress by potential foes, he reached out to Silicon Valley, Boston, and other tech hubs, opening Pentagon satellite offices, boosting investment in research and development, and creating the Defense Digital Service to bring tech experts into the Pentagon for a tour of duty. His Force of the Future initiative aimed to keep America’s all-volunteer force the world’s finest, including through opening all military specialties to women.

For his government service, Carter has been awarded the Department of Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the department’s highest honor, on five separate occasions. He has also received the Defense Intelligence Medal and the Joint Distinguished Service Medal from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Carter now directs the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School and is an Innovation Fellow at MIT. Married, with two grown children, he has also taught at other universities, worked in the private sector, and authored or co-authored eleven books—with a memoir in the works—and more than one hundred papers on physics, technology, national security,  and management.

Tufts will award Carter an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.