Speakers you likely won’t hear at a University of Kansas Commencement ceremony: Chance the Rapper, Oprah Winfrey, or Michael Bloomberg, all of whom have been tapped to speak at commencement events around the country this year.
KU’s Commencement ceremony traditionally features speeches from the university chancellor, the Kansas Board of Regents chair, and the KU Alumni Association chair, and an award presented to extraordinary leaders.
In 2012, under Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, the university began awarding honorary degrees. The honor replaced distinguished citations after a petition to the Board of Regents.
The honorary degree is the highest honor bestowed by the university and is awarded to individuals of notable intellectual, scholarly, professional or creative achievement, or service to humanity.
The nomination process opens to members of the university community and the general public each year in March. The Chancellor’s Honorary Degree Committee then forwards several nominees to the chancellor for consideration. The following October, the Chancellor submits nominees to the Kansas Board of Regents for approval, and the recipients are honored at KU’s Commencement ceremony in May.
2012: The inaugural recipients of honorary degrees; Alan Mulally, e’68, g’69, president and CEO of Ford Motor Co. and keynote speaker; former FDIC chair Sheila Bair, c’75, l’78; former Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole, ’45; and renowned composer Kirke L. Mechem.
To learn more about Commencement, including the history of the walk down the hill, class banners, and the special experience for Big and Baby Jays, read our full feature, The Walk.
A Mayo Clinic scientist who is a pioneer in the field of pharmacogenomics — the study of how drugs respond to a person’s genetics — will receive an honorary degree from the University of Kansas.
Dr. Richard Weinshilboum, a KU alumnus, will receive an honorary degree during KU’s 146th Commencement ceremony on May 13. He is the director of pharmacogenomics and chair of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology at the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, and he is also the Mayo Clinic’s Mary Lou and John H. Dasburg Professor of Cancer Genomics.
“Dr. Weinshilboum’s important and foundational work has opened the door to new advances that will help patients far into the future,” said Chancellor Douglas A. Girod. “His groundbreaking research in the field of genomics is helping to bring about a new era in medicine that enables doctors to customize treatments to fit their patients’ specific genetic makeups. We are honored to award him with an honorary degree during our Commencement ceremony this year.”
Girod recommended Weinshilboum for an honorary degree to the Kansas Board of Regents, which approved the chancellor’s recommendation.
Weinshilboum will receive the degree of Doctor of Science for his notable contributions in the field of pharmacogenomics. He earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology and chemistry and a medical degree from KU, concluding in 1967.
During a nearly 50-year career, Weinshilboum has helped to move his chosen field of study from theoretical to practical. Today, treatments can adjust to a patient’s genetics to increase efficacy or avoid life-threatening side effects, a practice known as “precision” or “individualized” medicine.
He has spent most of his career at the Mayo Clinic, where he has worked since 1972. He has earned continual support from the National Institutes of Health and has earned a number of honors from scientific societies, international organizations and universities.
KU awards honorary degrees based on nominees’ outstanding scholarship, research, creative activity, service to humanity or other achievements consistent with the academic endeavors of the university. Recipients do not need to be KU alumni, and philanthropic contributions to the university are not considered during the process.
Past honorary degree recipients include notable leaders such as Nobel Peace Prize winner and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Google Earth creator Brian McClendon, novelist Sara Paretsky, and Ford chief executive officer Alan Mulally.
Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia and 2016 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, is also a 2018 honorary degree recipient. Santos visited campus in October to accept the honorary degree. Learn more about KU’s honorary degrees here. Information about 2018 Commencement events and activities can be found at the university’s Commencement website, www.commencement.ku.edu.
Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia and recipient of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, received an honorary doctorate from KU tonight at the Lied Center.
Chancellor Doug Girod and former Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little participated in a hooding ceremony that awarded Santos, b’73, an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters for “outstanding contributions to achieving peace in his country and the world.”
Elected president in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, Santos won the Nobel Prize for helping broker a peace agreement that ended the civil war that ravaged Colombia for 54 years, killing more than 220,000 and displacing nearly 6 million. The Colombian government and FARC rebels signed a peace deal in November 2016 that was ratified a week later by Colombia’s Congress.
“This added, obviously, to the immense pride those of us at KU and alumni around the world felt for our fellow Jayhawk,” Girod said. “His success also really highlights the efforts of our own faculty, students, staff and alumni in our efforts to make this campus a welcoming place for students from around the world.”
“I am very humbled and deeply moved to be standing here before you all to receive this degree from my beloved alma mater, where I graduated 44 years ago,” Santos said. He credited his brother, Luis, j’70, then attending the William Allen White School of Journalism, for his decision in 1969 to attend KU. “He wrote to me, saying that this was a great university and that I would love it. And I did. Since then I have been a proud Jayhawk, and I shall always be to the end of my days.”
Santos is the 15th person to receive an honorary degree since KU began awarding them in 2012.
The Chancellor’s Committee on Honorary Degrees invites you to propose exceptional individuals of notable intellectual, scholarly, professional or creative achievement, or service to humanity, to be awarded an honorary degree from the University of Kansas. An honorary degree recognizes an individual’s extraordinary contributions to the sciences, arts or humanities or other contributions to humanity.
Proposers should provide a brief supporting statement describing the person’s career and achievements, indicating why these contributions are exceptionally meritorious and detailing their relevance to the university’s academic endeavors.
No announcement will be made concerning individuals nominated, and all nominations will be treated as confidential information. The committee will review all nominations and may request further information that demonstrates that the nominee’s achievements and/or service are of such exceptional character as to merit the award of an honorary degree.
Individuals who have been previously nominated must be re-nominated to be considered for the May 2018 awards.
The committee will select candidates for honorary degrees and forward their names and supporting materials to the Chancellor for consideration. The Chancellor will then nominate to the Board of Regents for approval candidates for honorary degrees to be awarded at the 2018 Commencement.
William McNulty, an Iraq War veteran and co-founder of Team Rubicon, will be awarded an honorary degree at KU’s 145th Commencement on May 14, 2017, in Memorial Stadium.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little recommended McNulty for an honorary degree to the Kansas Board of Regents. The board approved the chancellor’s recommendation during its meeting today, Jan. 18.
McNulty – himself a KU alumnus – created Team Rubicon to provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid to communities hit by natural disasters. The organization grew out of McNulty’s desire to continue serving his country when his enlistment in the United States Marine Corps ended. After organizing a team of veterans to help with disaster response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, McNulty recognized that military veterans’ unique skills offered a model for a disaster-response organization that would bridge the gap between the immediate aftermath of disasters and the arrival of large-scale relief efforts from governments and aid organizations.
“William McNulty has turned his experience in war-torn areas of the world into a global effort to aid similar communities, while at the same time easing the transition of military veterans to civilian life by offering a sense of community, identity and purpose,” Chancellor Gray-Little said. “His innovative and meaningful work is making our world a better place, and for that, he is an inspiration to the entire KU community. We look forward to awarding him his honorary degree in May 2017.”
Team Rubicon was featured on the cover of Kansas Alumni magazine, issue 2, 2016. Read the full article here.
McNulty will be awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters for outstanding contributions to global humanitarian and relief efforts.
McNulty earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas and his master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.
Read the full press release from the University of Kansas here.
The Chancellor’s committee on honorary degrees is taking nominations for individuals of exceptional service to humanity or notable intellectual, scholarly, professional or creative achievement to be awarded an honorary degree from the University of Kansas. Nominations will be accepted through March 31.
An honorary degree recognizes the extraordinary contributions of an individual to the sciences, arts, humanities or other contributions to humanity. Anyone interested in nominating an outstanding individual should provide a brief supporting statement describing the person’s career and achievements, indicating why these contributions are exceptionally meritorious and relevant to the University’s academic endeavors.
The committee will select candidates for honorary degrees and forward their names and supporting materials to the Chancellor for consideration. The Chancellor will then nominate candidates to the Board of Regents for approval. Honorary degrees will be awarded at the 2016 Commencement.
Individuals who have been previously nominated must be nominated again in order to be considered for the 2016 awards. All nominations will be treated as confidential information.
All nominations should be submitted electronically by March 31. Click here to submit a nomination. More information about the nomination and selection of candidates for honorary degrees can be found at honorarydegrees.ku.edu.