Rebecca Heller ’05 (Doctor of Humane Letters)

Heller received an honorary degree at Dartmouth’s 2019 commencement ceremony.

REBECCA MELISSA HELLER, as an ardent and highly skilled human rights attorney, you’ve mobilized and led a venerable army of your own to protect and defend the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Troubled by human suffering from the time you were a child, you’ve dedicated your life to the fight for social justice. A proud member of the Dartmouth Class of 2005, you credit your alma mater with giving you the freedom to explore myriad causes and cultures in your quest to find your passion and purpose. 

While pursuing your J.D. from Yale Law School, you co-founded the International Refugee Assistance Project, pioneering a new model for humanitarian legal aid. By pairing talented law students with practicing attorneys, you assisted at-risk refugees in navigating the complexities of resettlement while cultivating an entirely new generation of international human rights advocates.

Aptly described by The New York Times as “a firebrand,” you approach your work with fearlessness and determination. When the 2017 travel ban threatened to curtail the rights of legal immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, you put compassion for people over politics, swiftly deploying thousands of volunteer attorneys to airports across the country to provide immediate legal aid. 

Your heroic efforts have led to increased protections for hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced individuals worldwide, expanded pathways to safety for those fleeing persecution and, above all, saved lives. In recognition of your leadership and global impact, the MacArthur Foundation presented you with a 2018 “Genius” Award.

For your advocacy and efficacy on behalf of global refugees and your commitment to using the power of your intellect, individually and in partnership with others, to deliver justice and hope, Dartmouth is proud to award you the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.