National Institute on Aging

Honorary Degrees Awarded to Blacks at This Spring’s Commencement Ceremonies of the Nation’s Highest-Ranked Universities

This spring the nation’s 30 highest-ranked universities and 30 highest-ranked liberal arts colleges bestowed honorary degrees on 33 blacks. This is three more than in 2010. The number of honorary degrees awarded to blacks peaked in 2007 when 44 were awarded. The lowest number of honorary degrees awarded to blacks by our top colleges and universities in the 17 years JBHE has tracked these awards was 24 in 2006.

This spring the nation’s 30 high-ranking universities bestowed 21 honorary degrees on blacks. Princeton University gave honorary degrees to three African Americans. Duke, Harvard, Tufts, the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania, each gave out honorary degrees to two blacks.

Here is a list of the honorands at the nation’s leading research universities:

Brown University

Lynn Ida Nottage, a 1986 Brown graduate, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

Columbia University

Ornette Coleman is an American saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer.

Dartmouth College

Ruby Dee is an actress who has appeared on stage, screen, and television. She has been presented with the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award.

Duke University

Rita Dove, former poet laureate of the United States, is the Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

Alan Page, former star defensive lineman of the Minnesota Viking, is a justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Harvard University

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is president of the African nation, Liberia

David Satcher, former Surgeon General of the United States is now director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine.

Johns Hopkins University

Freeman A. Hrabowski III is the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Northwestern University

Judith Jamison is the artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City.

Princeton University

Hank Aaron is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame

Geoffrey Canada is president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone.

Judith Jamison is a dancer, choreographer, and actress who enrolled at Fisk University at the age of 15.

Tufts University

Geoffrey Canada

Jamaica Kincaid is an award-winning writer of fiction and nonfiction. She is currently a professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College.

University of Michigan

Shelton Spike Lee is an educator and filmmaker.

Eugene Robinson writes a twice-a-week column on politics and culture for The Washington Post.

University of Pennsylvania

Denzel Washington is an Academy Award-winning actor.

Mo Ibrahim is a Sudanese mobile communications entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Washington University

Shirley Ann Jackson, former chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

Yale University

Youssou Ndour is a Senegalese singer, percussionist, and actor.

Next week, we will list the honorary degrees given to blacks by the nation’s top liberal arts colleges.


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