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Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients

May 2019 Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients: 

Will be announced in the spring

May 2018 Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients:

Andrea Mitchell, CW’67, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters and 2018 Commencement Speaker
Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, NBC News;
Host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” MSNBC

Andrea Mitchell, a 1967 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and one of the most recognizable figures in television news, is chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News and host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” weekdays on MSNBC. With NBC since 1978, she has covered seven presidential administrations and offered news reports from across the world. Ms. Mitchell, who also appears regularly on “Meet the Press” and other NBC programs, has been recognized for her incisive interviews and reporting, including coverage of the Reagan/Gorbachev arms control summits, the Iran nuclear negotiations, exclusive interviews with Fidel Castro and assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Korea along with other conflict zones. Raised in New Rochelle, New York, she studied English literature and was a reporter and program director at Penn’s radio station WXPN. A Penn Trustee Emerita, Ms. Mitchell joined the board in 1992 and served as Vice Chair of the board and on its Executive Committee. She was also Co-Chair of Penn’s record-breaking Making History campaign, a founding member of the Trustees’ Council of Penn Women, and chair of the Annenberg School for Communication Alumni Advisory Board. Ms. Mitchell currently chairs the Board of Overseers of Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences. In 2017, she and her husband, Alan Greenspan, endowed the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy. They have also endowed two Penn Integrates Knowledge professorships, and supported Penn’s Music Department Performance Fund and the Kelly Writers House. A recipient of Penn’s Alumni Award of Merit, Ms. Mitchell’s many awards include: the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation; the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism from Harvard’s Kennedy School, and the Society for Professional Journalists Lifetime Achievement Award. Ms. Mitchell’s 2005 memoir, Talking Back: …to Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels (2005), recounts her experiences as one of the first women in broadcast news.

Sylvia Earle, Honorary Doctor of Sciences
Marine biologist, oceanographer, and author; Founder of Mission Blue and the Sylvia Earle Alliance

Named a “Living Legend” by the U.S. Library of Congress, Dr. Sylvia Earle is a pioneer of marine ecosystems research, logging over 7,000 hours underwater in more than 100 expeditions. A marine biologist, oceanographer, explorer, and author, Dr. Earle is the founder of Mission Blue and the Sylvia Earle Alliance. Having also founded Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, she heads its science advisory board, and is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, a position she has held since 1998. Dr. Earle chairs the Advisory Council for the Harte Research Institute and led the Google Ocean Advisory Council in development of the Ocean in Google Earth. Dr. Earle’s research encompasses exploration, conservation, and the development and use of new technologies for access and effective operations in the deep sea and other remote environments. She has focused much of her work on developing a global network of “hope spots,” unique and significant places across the world’s oceans needing attention and protection. A native of New Jersey and a graduate of Florida State University, with masters and doctorate degrees from Duke University, Dr. Earle is a former chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the author of nearly 200 scientific and popular publications and 13 books, the most recent 2014’s “Blue Hope.” She has lectured in more than 90 countries, and is the subject of the Emmy Award winning Netflix documentary, “Mission Blue.” In 1998, Time named Earle their first “Hero for the Planet.” Her many international awards and honors include the United Nations Environment Champion of the Earth, National Geographic’s Hubbard Medal, the Royal Geographical Society’s Patrons Medal, the Dominican Republic’s Medal of Honor, Netherlands Order of the Golden Ark, Australia’s International Banksia Award, Italy’s Artiglio Award, and medals from the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences, Lindbergh Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, and the Society of Women Geographers.

Freeman Hrabowski, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Scholar of education and President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County 

Freeman Hrabowski has served as president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) since 1992. Named the nation’s number one “Up and Coming” university from 2009-2014 by U.S. News & World Report and for the last three years to its list of the top 10 most innovative national universities, UMBC has become a leading source of African-American students going on to seek Ph.D.’s in science and engineering. Growing up in the segregated city of Birmingham, Alabama with educator parents, Dr. Hrabowski was an early activist, participating at age 12 in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 Children’s Crusade. He completed undergraduate studies in mathematics from now Hampton University in 1970, and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Hrabowski’s research has focused on science and math education, particularly minority participation and performance. From his arrival in 1987 as UMBC’s Vice Provost and then Executive Vice President, Dr. Hrabowski has worked to support African-American students pursuing science and engineering careers, where they are traditionally underrepresented. President Obama named Dr. Hrabowski as chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. He also chaired the National Academies committee that produced the 2011 report on expanding underrepresented minority participation in science and technology careers.  The author of many books and articles, Dr. Hrabowski’s most recent work, Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement, describes how his own youthful activism played a central role in his development as an educator and leader. Dr. Hrabowski is the recipient of the TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence and the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Academic Leadership Award. In 2012, he received the Heinz Award and was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People.

Elihu Katz, Honorary Doctor of Sciences
Distinguished Trustee Professor Emeritus of Communication, Annenberg School, University of Pennsylvania

Sociologist and media scholar Elihu Katz, Distinguished Trustee Professor Emeritus of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, is a founding father of communication research. In a career spanning seven decades, he has sought to further understanding of the public sphere of interaction among media, conversation, opinion, and action. Dr. Katz rose to prominence early when, as a graduate student at Columbia University, he coauthored (with his mentor, Paul Lazarsfeld) the defining work Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communication. The book’s focus on the juncture of mass media and interpersonal communication would become a prime emphasis of research throughout Dr. Katz’s career. His work has included groundbreaking studies ranging from the secularization of leisure, to the diffusion of innovations, to bureaucracy and the public. In the 1960s, Dr. Katz taught at both the University of Chicago and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and continued to work both in Israel and the United States throughout his career. A member of Penn’s faculty since 1992, Dr. Katz directed the Annenberg School’s experimental Scholars program for postdoctoral study. In the 1970s, inspired by peace-making initiatives in Israel, he and colleague Daniel Dayan began a 15-year collaboration assembling broadcasts of historic occasions, which culminated in their 1992 work, Media Events. At Hebrew University, Dr. Katz founded the university’s Communications Institute. He also served as Director of the Israel Institute of Applied Social Research. He headed the team that introduced television broadcasting to Israel, served as consultant to the BBC and, thereafter, traced the spread of television in the third world. An American Academy of Arts and Sciences member, Dr. Katz is author or coauthor of many of his field’s most influential books and articles. His awards include the 1989 Israel Prize for social sciences, the UNESCO-Canada McLuhan Prize. Retiring from Penn in 2014, Dr. Katz resides in Jerusalem and continues his research and writing.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Honorary Doctor of Music
Music Director, Walter and Leonore Annenberg Chair, Philadelphia Orchestra; Music Director Designate, Metropolitan Opera, New York

One of the most celebrated musical conductors of our time, Yannick Nézet-Séguin enjoys professional relationships with two of the world’s preeminent artistic organizations. Mr. Nézet- Séguin is the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Music Director and Walter and Leonore Annenberg Chair, confirmed to lead the orchestra through its 2025-2026 season. Music Director Designate of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, he will become the third Music Director in the company's history in its 2018-2019 season. Globally recognized for his tremendous energy, collaborative style, and deep musical curiosity, Mr. Nézet-Séguin has been Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal since 2000 and is in his final season as the Rotterdam Philharmonic’s Music Director. A Montreal native, he studied piano, conducting, composition, and chamber music at Montreal’s Conservatory of Music, and with Choral Conductor Joseph Flummerfelt of Westminster Choir College and Italian Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini. At 19, he was appointed Director of the Chœur Polyphonique de Montréal. The following year, he founded the Ensemble Orchestral de Montréal; at 22, he became Assistant Conductor and Choir Master at the Opéra de Montréal. Following his operatic international debut with “Roméo et Juliette” at the 2008 Salzburg Festival, Mr. Nézet-Séguin has conducted at legendary opera houses from Teatro alla Scala to Covent Garden. Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic from 2008 to 2014, he has made critically-acclaimed guest appearances with the world’s most revered ensembles, including the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Boston Symphony, and the Staatskapelle Berlin. During his tenure, the Philadelphia Orchestra has grown its community engagement, working to champion music education, foster wellness, and eliminate barriers to access. Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s honours include Musical America’s 2016 Artist of the Year, Royal Philharmonic Society Award, National Arts Centre Award, Prix Denise-Pelletier, and Prix Oskar Morawetz. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada and the Order of Arts and Letters of Québec, and an Officer of the Order of Québec, and the Order of Montreal.

Peggy Noonan, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Author, political and cultural commentator; The Wall Street Journal columnist

Since 2000, columnist and author Peggy Noonan has offered her perspective on American politics, history, and culture in her weekly editorial column “Declarations” in The Wall Street Journal. For her work chronicling the 2016 American presidential election, Ms. Noonan was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for Distinguished Commentary. In an exceptional career spanning government service and journalism, Ms. Noonan garnered particular recognition as a special assistant and speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan for her contributions to many memorable speeches, including his remarks following the 1986 explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. She also worked with President Reagan on his January 1989 farewell address, and with President-elect George H. W. Bush on his inaugural address given just nine days later. At present, Ms. Noonan is also a political analyst for NBC News. Born in Brooklyn, New York, and a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University, she began her journalism career working overnight at the Boston all-news radio station WEEI and later as a producer and writer at CBS News in New York. Ms. Noonan has taught at New York University and at Yale University, and was a fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics. She is the best-selling author of nine books, her first a memoir of the Reagan era, What I Saw at the Revolution. Her most recent work is a collection of her writings, The Time of Our Lives. She has also written biographies of President Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Ms. Noonan’s awards include the 2010 Award for Media Excellence, bestowed by the living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Named a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library, she serves as a Trustee of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Scholar of American history and the history of women; 300th Anniversary University Professor, Harvard University

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University. A scholar of early American history and the history of women, Dr. Ulrich often focuses on "the silent work of ordinary people” and the stories revealed by everyday objects. Her most famous book, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, offered insight into the lives of early American women through study of the journal of an obscure medical practitioner in rural Maine. Among many awards, including the Bancroft Prize, A Midwife’s Tale received the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for History, the first work of women’s history to be so awarded, and was the subject of a documentary on PBS’s “American Experience.” A native of Idaho, Dr. Ulrich earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Utah and an M.A. in English from Simmons College. In 1980, she received a Ph.D. in history from the University of New Hampshire, remaining on the faculty there until joining Harvard in 1995. Dr. Ulrich’s life as both a committed Mormon and a feminist informs her most recent work, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870. In the 1970s, Dr. Ulrich penned the phrase “Well-behaved women seldom make history” within a scholarly article. To her surprise, it has since become a focus of popular culture, appearing on commonplace objects from mugs to bumper stickers across the globe. A past president of the American Historical Association and a former Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundation Fellow, the National Endowment for the Humanities recognized Dr. Ulrich for outstanding contributions to public understanding of the humanities. She has also received the Ernesta Drinker Ballard Award. Dr. Ulrich is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Hamdi Ulukaya, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Entrepreneur and philanthropist; Founder, Chair, and CEO of Chobani

Hamdi Ulukaya is founder, Chair, and CEO of Chobani, one of the fastest growing food companies of the last decade and a pioneer for the natural food movement. Raised in a dairy farming family in eastern Turkey, Mr. Ulukaya came to the United States in 1994. He launched Chobani in 2007 with the mission and vision of making better food more accessible. In less than five years, Chobani was the top selling Greek yogurt brand in the United States, with annual sales exceeding $1 billion. Giving back to the community has always been a priority for his company. From its beginning, Chobani has donated a portion of its profits to charitable causes, many in Idaho and New York where its products are made. An advocate of reducing income and wealth inequality nationwide, in 2016 Mr. Ulukaya announced a groundbreaking profit-sharing program for Chobani’s 2,000 employees, and took the rare step in manufacturing of implementing six weeks of paid parental leave for all parents employed there. In 2016, Mr. Ulukaya also launched the Chobani Food Incubator to empower and mentor socially responsible food entrepreneurs. Mr. Ulukaya is the founder of the Tent Foundation, which seeks to mobilize the private sector to improve the lives and livelihoods of the more than 20 million refugees around the globe. He also signed the Giving Pledge, committing the majority of his wealth to addressing the global refugee crisis. Mr. Ulukaya has been named an Eminent Advocate by the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and has received Save the Children’s Humanitarian Award. In 2017, he was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. Earlier this year, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change presented Chobani with its Salute to Greatness Award, one of its highest honors.

Nominating an Honorary Degree Recipient

The Office of the University Secretary manages the honorary degrees process at Penn. All members of the University community are welcome to submit nominations. For information about qualifications and nominating honorary degree candidates, visit the University Secretary's Honorary Degrees website.

Past Penn's Commencement Speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients