Three will receive 2024 Harvard Medal

The Harvard Alumni Association has announced that Scott A. Abell ’72, Katherine N. Lapp, and M. Lee Pelton, Ph.D. ’84, will receive the 2024 Harvard Medal.

First awarded in 1981, the Harvard Medal recognizes extraordinary service to the University in areas that include teaching, fundraising, leadership, innovation, administration, and volunteerism. Alumni, former faculty and staff, and members of organizations affiliated with the University are eligible for consideration. The medals will be presented to recipients on Harvard Alumni Day on May 31.

Scott A. Abell

Scott A. Abell.

One of the University’s most dynamic and valued alumni leaders, Scott Abell has devoted more than three decades in service to Harvard. He has brought his love and deep knowledge of the institution to a variety of executive roles, including president of the Harvard Board of Overseers, president of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA), and dean for development for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

Growing up in a family of modest means, Abell overcame childhood polio to become a multisport athlete in high school. He was encouraged by a Cleveland-area alumnus to apply to Harvard College, enrolling in 1968. After graduating, Abell founded and served as chair and CEO of Abell & Associates, leading its work in financial services and healthcare consulting.

Recognizing the impact that Harvard and its alumni community have had on his own life, Abell has been dedicated to strengthening alumni connection. During his 2000–2001 term as HAA president, he employed his trademark diplomacy to develop relationships within the University and with alumni worldwide, leading a comprehensive strategy that helped reshape the HAA.

In 2004, Abell came out of retirement to lead FAS fundraising activities as associate vice president and dean for development. As a member of the Board of Overseers from 2012 to 2018, Abell chaired its committee on institutional policy and served on its executive committee, nominating committee, and the governing boards’ Joint Committee on Alumni Affairs and Development. In his final year, he led the Overseers as president.

Prior volunteer roles include president of the Harvard Club of Northeast Ohio, where he also chaired its Schools and Scholarships Committee; HAA regional director; and vice chair of the Harvard College Fund executive committee. He received the HAA Award in 2003 in recognition of his work on behalf of the alumni community. 

Katherine N. Lapp

Katherine N. Lapp.
Harvard file photo

Through skillful leadership and perseverance, Katherine “Katie” Lapp expertly guided Harvard’s administrative and operational functions for 13 years. As executive vice president, she built a resilient organization that was able to weather times of uncertainty, including the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that the University could continue its core mission of teaching and learning.

As a member of the president’s senior management team, Lapp was responsible for areas in finance, administration, human resources, and capital planning. She oversaw Harvard’s development efforts in Allston, including the creation of the Science and Engineering Complex, a proposed residential project at Barry’s Corner, and the Enterprise Research Campus. Lapp helped steer Harvard’s campus sustainability goals — notably meeting initial targets of a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2016 — and co-chaired the Presidential Committee on Sustainability.

In 2019, as the pandemic began to unfold, she played an integral role in the University’s response, managing its surveillance and tracing procedures; the technology infrastructure that enabled remote learning; and the return of students, staff, and faculty to campus.

Lapp joined Harvard in 2009 from the University of California at the height of the recession, bringing stability and vision to planning and budgeting across the University as she worked to strengthen financial management practices and modernize administrative operations and risk management protocols. She stepped down from her role in 2022.

Prior to Harvard, Lapp served as executive director and CEO for New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as well as director of criminal justice and commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services in New York State.

Lapp continues to sit on the boards of the Museum of Fine Arts, Mount Auburn Hospital, the Carnegie Institution for Science, and the Cambridge Public Library Foundation.

M. Lee Pelton

M. Lee Pelton.

A distinguished academic and civic leader, Lee Pelton has dedicated his career to advancing social justice and expanding educational opportunities — a calling that has driven him as a college president for 23 years and now as president and CEO of the Boston Foundation.  

A steadfast Harvard volunteer, Pelton served on the Graduate School Alumni Association Council from 1996 to 2005 and on the Board of Overseers from 2000 to 2006, including one year as vice chair of the executive committee. He also served on visiting committees for Harvard College, Harvard Library, and Athletics, as well as the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility.

The grandson of sharecroppers, Pelton was the first in his family to go to college, attending Wichita State University before pursuing a doctorate in English and American literature at Harvard, where he was senior tutor at Winthrop House and a lecturer on English. After leaving Harvard, he held decanal roles at Colgate University and Dartmouth College.

In 1998, he was appointed president of Willamette University. There he increased the school’s ranking as a top-tier liberal arts college, established a college access program for historically underrepresented youth, and earned the university inclusion in President Barack Obama’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

In 2011, he became president of Emerson College, where he increased faculty, enhanced student body diversity, developed national and global programs, and emerged as a powerful voice on social issues. In the wake of the Sandy Hook mass shooting, he rallied over 250 college and university presidents to call for gun legislation. After the murder of George Floyd in June 2020, Pelton’s impassioned written address to the Emerson community went viral as he candidly relayed his own experiences with racial profiling.

Since 2021, Pelton has led the Boston Foundation, committed to equity and to closing the gaps on the region’s greatest disparities for historically marginalized communities.

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