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

    Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients

    The speaker and honorary degree recipients for The University of Pennsylvania's 267th Commencement ceremony include Idina Menzel, Abhijit Banerjee, Jean Bennett, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Esther Duflo, and Brent Staples (see slideshow.)


    Idina Menzel

    Actress, singer, songwriter of stage and screen
    Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, 2004

    2023 Commencement Speaker and Honorary Doctor of Arts

    Photo Credit: John Russo


    Abhijit Banerjee

    Nobel Prize in Economics, 2019
    Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Honorary Doctor of Laws

    Photo Credit: Bryce Vickmark


    Jean Bennett

    Co-pioneer of gene therapy to reverse inherited retinal disease
    F.M. Kirby Professor Emeritus of Ophthalmology, University of Pennsylvania

    Honorary Doctor of Sciences

    Photo Credit: Dan Burke

    Bell Burnell

    Jocelyn Bell Burnell

    Astrophysicist who discovered pulsars
    Visiting Professor of Astrophysics and Professorial Fellow at Mansfield College, University of Oxford Chancellor, University of Dundee, Scotland

    Honorary Doctor of Sciences

    Photo Credit: Royal Society of Edinburgh


    Esther Duflo

    Nobel Prize in Economics, 2019
    Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Honorary Doctor of Laws

    Photo Credit: Bryce Vickmark


    Brent Staples

    Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Writing, 2019
    New York Times Editorial Board member, author

    Honorary Doctor of Letters

    Photo Credit: Celeste Sloman

    Office of the University Secretary 
    1 College Hall, Room 211
    Philadelphia, PA 19104-6303

    Phone (215) 898-7005
    Fax (215) 898-0103

    Campus Map