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Honorary Degrees

University of Pennsylvania

Honorary degrees are important statements of Penn's values and aspirations and we strongly encourage your participation in this process.

Honorary Degree Process

The Office of the University Secretary manages the honorary degrees process at Penn. 

All members of the University community are welcome to submit nominations.  All nominations are confidential and potential nominees should not be contacted directly.  Review is ongoing and candidates may ultimately be selected several years after their initial nomination.

The University Council Honorary Degrees Committee, with a membership of faculty, staff and graduate and undergraduate students, is charged with reviewing nominations from the fields of scholarship and academic achievement and advising the Trustee Committee on Honorary Degrees and Awards.  The Trustee Committee considers recommendations from the Council Committee as well as other sources and makes final selections.  

It is University policy not to consider Penn standing faculty, trustees, or school and center advisors for honorary degrees.  

Penn emeritus faculty are eligible to receive honorary degrees through a special nomination process by University Deans.

List of previous University of Pennsylvania
Honorary Degree Recipients

    Honorary Degree Qualifications

    Candidates should exemplify the highest ideals of the University, which seek to educate those who will change the world through innovative scholarship, scientific discovery, artistic creativity and/or societal leadership. Please note that Penn does not offer Honorary Degrees posthumously or in absentia.

    Nominations for Honorary Degrees

    Nominations should explain how nominees meet the criteria for selection and outline the nominees’ achievements and contributions; Please include as much biographical and other supporting information as possible, but do not contact the nominees. The nomination process is confidential and nominees should not know that they are being considered.  We particularly encourage nominations from fields which have not been recognized by the award of honorary degrees in recent years. 

    For general purposes, field of consideration for honorary degree nominations are as follows:

    • Arts and Culture
    • Business
    • Education
    • Entertainment and Media
    • Humanities and Social Sciences
    • Public Affairs (government, law)
    • Scholarship/Academia
    • Science, Technology and Medicine
    • Other

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    Author, educator, and international speaker 
    MacArthur Foundation Fellow

    Commencement Speaker and Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

    Anthony M. Kennedy

    Associate Justice, Retired Supreme Court of the United States

    Honorary Doctor of Laws

    Jhumpa Lahiri

    Author and translator, Professor of Creative Writing and Director, Creative Writing Program, Princeton University, Recipient
    Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

    Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

    Jill Lepore

    American historian and author, David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History, Harvard University, Staff writer, The New Yorker

    Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

    Stanley A. Plotkin

    Physician, educator, researcher, and developer of vaccines, Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Professor Emeritus of Virology, Wistar Institute, Philadelphia

    Honorary Doctor of Sciences

    Sister Mary Scullion

    Advocate in service of the homeless and mentally ill, Co-founder, Project HOME, Philadelphia, Member of the Sisters of Mercy

    Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

    Gregg L. Semenza, M’82, GR’84

    C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Genetic Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Founding Director, Vascular Biology Program, Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering, Recipient of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

    Honorary Doctor of Sciences

    Henry Threadgill

    Jazz composer and multi-instrumentalist artist, Recipient, Pulitzer Prize for Music

    Honorary Doctor of Music