A Proud Past of Speakers, Honorees


Anderson, Marian

The practice of having an outside commencement speaker at the University began sometime in the early 20th century. During the 1970s and 80s, speeches came from recipients of honorary degrees. In the late 1980s, the practice of having a commencement address was revived, although the address was typically given near the end or middle of the ceremony instead of at the beginning.

Select speakers and honorary degree recipients from commencement ceremonies over the years include:

1920: Dwight D. Morrow, businessman and partner of J. P. Morgan

1921: Eliot Wadsworth, assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury

1922: George Wharton Pepper, senator from Pennsylvania

1928: Robert Alexander Falconer, president of the University of Toronto

1929: George Daniel Olds, president emeritus of Amherst College

1931: John Huston Finley, associate editor of the New York Times

1932: William Richards Castle Jr., undersecretary of the U.S. Department
of State

1934: Wilbur L. Cross, governor of Connecticut

1935: William Mather Lewis, president of Lafayette College

1936: Pulitzer Prize– winning journalist Walter Lippmann

1941: British Prime Minister Winston Churchill received an honorary degree and addressed graduates via a live radio broadcast from Great Britain. Also during the ceremony, scientist George Washington Carver and president F. D. Patterson of the Tuskegee Institute received honorary degrees.

1941: President Alan Valentine presents an honorary degree to George Washington Carver, with Tuskegee President F. D Patterson. Photo courtesy of the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation

President Alan Valentine presents an honorary degree to George Washington Carver, with Tuskegee President F. D Patterson. Photo courtesy of the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation

1942: H. J. Cody, president of the University of Toronto

1955: Allan Nevins, Civil War historian

1957: Former New York governor Thomas E. Dewey received an honorary degree

1958: Robert M. Hutchins, chancellor emeritus of the University of Chicago

1962: John W. Gardner, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare

1963: Edward A. Weeks, editor and essayist at the Atlantic Monthly

1964: Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson received an honorary degree

1966: Richard Nixon, then a former U.S. vice president, addressed the graduates

1969: Edward H. Levi, president of the University of Chicago

1973: Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein, whose papers are housed in Rush Rhees Library, presented the invocation

1982: Wilson Commons architect I. M. Pei received an honorary degree

1985: The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, archbishop of Cape Town, received an honorary doctor of divinity degree

1986: Garth Fagan, Tony Award–winning choreographer, received an honorary degree

1990: Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree

1994: New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Pakistan President Farooq Ahmad khan Leghari, whose son was graduating with a BA in political science, received honorary degrees

1995: Elizabeth Hanford Dole, cabinet secretary under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, addressed the graduates and received an honorary degree

2003: Writer John A. Williams, whose papers are housed in Rush Rhees Library, received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree

2005: Robert B. Wegman, founder of the Wegmans grocery chain, received an honorary degree

2007: Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and economist and Nobel Laureate Robert Solow received honorary degrees

2008: Then Xerox CEO Ann Mulcahy and law professor and noted legal scholar and commentator Arthur Miller ’56, received honorary degrees

2009: Congresswoman Louise Slaughter addressed the graduates and Kodak CEO Antonio Perez received an honorary degree

2010: Wegmans CEO Danny Wegman addressed the graduates. He, poet Cornelius Eady, and economist Richard Thaler ’74 (PhD) received honorary degrees

2011: Xerox CEO Ursula Burns addressed the graduates. Rochester professor Esther Conwell and entrepreneur Jay Last ’51 received honorary degrees

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