Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Honorary Degrees 2009

May 11th, 2009 by Ajuan Mance

Aretha Franklin, receiving an honorary degree from the University of Pennsylvania (May 2007). This year she will be recognized by Brown University.



It’s that time of year again. Seniors are pulling the last all-nighters of their undergraduate careers as they finish their thesis projects; faculty members are preparing for the busiest time of the semester, as they wait to receive the inevitable avalanche of final papers and exams; landscapers are beautifying the lawns and flower beds of their campuses in preparation for the arrival of parents and alumni; and college administrators are dusting off their full academic regalia as they anticipate the greatest day of celebration in the academic year. Commencement is right around the corner, and in addition to earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, colleges and universities across the country are finalizing their plans to recognize the nation’s (and the world’s) most accomplished artists, writers, scholars, leaders, and performers with honorary degrees.

Here is a list of just a few of the men and women of African descent who will be so-honored during this year’s commencement season. The name of the awarding institution is in parentheses:

  • Aretha Franklin, award-winning R&B singer, songwriter, and pianist (Brown University)
  • Geoffrey Canada, author, activist, and president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone (Harvard University)
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor, scholar, and commentator on issues of race and the African diaspora (Columbia University)
  • Helene D. Gayle, President/CEO of CARE USA (Columbia University)
  • Clarence Otis, CEO of Darden Restaurants Inc., the largest full-service dining restaurant company in the world (Williams College)
  • Arthur Mitchell, the first Black principal dancer in a major ballet company, and founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem (Southern Methodist University)
  • President Barack Obama (University of Notre Dame)
  • Cato T. Laurencin, Dean of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Vice President for Health Affairs at the University of Connecticut (Lincoln University)
  • Deval Patrick, first African American Governor of Massachussetts (Tufts University)
  • S. Epatha Merkerson, award-winning actress (Wayne State University)
  • Olufunmilayo Olopade, Professor of Medicine and Human Genetics, Director of the Cancer Risk Clinic, University of Chicago (Bowdoin College)
  • Harold Moss, first African American Mayor of Tacoma, Washington (University of Puget Sound)
  • Raymond B. Johnson, the first African American Commanding Officer of the Naval Regional Medical Center in Newport, RI and the first African American Commanding Officer of the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, MD (Dartmouth College)
  • Bill Russell, retired Hall-of-Fame basketball star (NBA and collegiate) (Dartmouth College)
  • Edward Joseph Perkins, retired ambassador and former Director of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Corps (University of Oklahoma)
  • William Pickens III, founder and president of Bill Pickens Associates, Inc., an international consulting and executive search firm he founded in 1979. He is also the founding president and chief executive officer of the Paul Robeson Foundation (University of Vermont)
  • Johnnetta Betsch Cole, former President of Spelman College,currently the Director of the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution (Howard University)
  • Laurence J. Fishburne III, award-winning actor, playwright, director, and producer (Howard University)
  • His Excellency, Mr. Festus Gontebanye Mogae, former President of the Republic of Botswana (Howard University)
  • Ronald A. Williams, Chairman and CEO of Aetna (Howard University)
  • David Satcher, Former U.S. Surgeon General, Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Morehouse University (Emory University)
  • Rev. Tyree Tolliver (deceased), Civil Rights Activist, Pastor of St. John Missionary Baptist Church (California State University, Bakersfield)
  • Delfeayo Marsalis, Jazz trombonist, producer (New England College)
  • Yvonne Mokgoro, Justice on the South African Constitutional Court, Chair of the South African Law Reform Commission (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Faith Ringgold, noted Visual Artist and Social Activist (Rutgers University)
  • Sonny Rollins, jazz saxophonist and composer (Rutgers University)
  • Herbie Hancock, jazz icon (Loyola University of New Orleans)
  • Wardell Quezerque, musician, producer, bandleader (Loyola University of New Orleans)
  • Leah Chase, restauranteur, art Patron, Queen of Creole Cuisine (Loyola University of New Orleans)
  • Smokey Robinson, Motown legend (Berklee College of Music)

Posted by Ajuan Mance


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One Response

  1. SjP

    What an impressive list of honorees! And to Dr. Fanklin, all I can say is “You Go Girl!”

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