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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

    Ken Burns

    American documentary filmmaker
    Recipient of 16 Emmy Awards and 2 Academy Award nominations

    Commencement Speaker and Honorary Doctor of Arts


    Mary Frances Berry

    Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Historian, author, public servant, advocate for social justice

    Geraldine R. Segal Professor Emerita of American Social Thought, History, and Africana Studies, University of Pennsylvania


    Atul Gawande

    General and endocrine surgeon, author
    Head of Global Health, U.S. Agency for International Development

    Honorary Doctor of Sciences


    Amy Gutmann

    U.S. Ambassador to Germany
    President Emerita, University of Pennsylvania

    Honorary Doctor of Laws


    Carla D. Hayden

    Librarian, educator, administrator
    14th Librarian of Congress

    Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters


    George E. Lewis

    American composer, musicologist, and trombonist
    Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music, Columbia University

    Honorary Doctor of Music


    Margaret H. Marshall

    Lawyer, jurist
    Chief Justice, Retired, Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Senior Counsel, Choate Hall & Stewart LLP

    Honorary Doctor of Laws


    Edward Witten

    Physicist, mathematician
    Charles Simonyi Professor in the School of Natural Sciences, Institute for Advanced Study

    Honorary Doctor of Sciences