The May 2016 Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients will be announced in the spring.




Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients, May 2015

Samantha Power, Honorary Doctor of Laws and 2015 Commencement Speaker
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author


Samantha Power is the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a member of President Obama’s Cabinet. At the United Nations, Ambassador Power works to advance U.S. interests and address pressing challenges to global peace, security, and prosperity.  Prior to her current role, Ambassador Power served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Staff at the White House where she focused on issues including LGBT and women’s rights, the promotion of religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities, human trafficking, and democracy and human rights. Ambassador Power immigrated with her family to the United States from Ireland at the age of nine. She received her B.A. from Yale University and J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before her government service, Ambassador Power was the Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, teaching courses on U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and UN reform. She is also the founding executive director of the school’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Ambassador Power is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide and Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, the basis for the award-winning HBO documentary “Sergio.” She is also the co-author of The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World.  Ambassador Power began her career as a journalist, reporting globally from locales such as Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, and was a regular contributor to The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, the New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker Magazine. Ambassador Power is married to fellow honoree Cass Sunstein.


Arthur K. Asbury, Honorary Doctor of Sciences
Van Meter Professor of Neurology Emeritus, Perelman School of Medicine
University of Pennsylvania


Arthur K. Asbury, Van Meter Professor of Neurology Emeritus at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, is renowned for his clinical and experimental studies of peripheral neuropathies, particularly those seen with chronic kidney failure, and in patients with diabetes mellitus and Guillain-Barré syndrome. A graduate of the University of Kentucky and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Dr. Asbury completed his postgraduate training at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and served as Chief of Neurology at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center and as Vice Chair of Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Asbury held many leadership roles at Penn after his arrival in 1973 - as Chair of Neurology, Interim Dean and Executive Vice President of Penn’s Medical Center, Vice Dean for Research and for Faculty Affairs, and again as Interim Dean of the School of Medicine in 2000-2001. Dr. Asbury’s work is published in over 230 articles, chapters, and books. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, led many editorial boards and was Chief Editor of the Annals of Neurology. Dr. Asbury held leadership roles in many professional organizations, including the World Federation of Neurology, the American Neurological Association, and the Council of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.  He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal College of Physicians. Dr. Asbury received the Penn Health System I.S. Ravdin Master Clinician Award, Penn’s Lindback Award for Teaching Excellence, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the World Federation of Neurology, and the Meritorious Service Award of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. In his honor, Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine established the Arthur K. Asbury Award for Outstanding Faculty Mentoring.


Lee C. Bollinger, Honorary Doctor of Laws
President, Columbia University
First Amendment scholar


Lee C. Bollinger, one of the country’s foremost First Amendment scholars, has served since 2002 as Columbia University’s nineteenth president. He is Columbia’s first Seth Low Professor of the University and a member of the Law School faculty. President Bollinger speaks and writes frequently about the value of racial, cultural, and socio-economic diversity to American society and on the freedom of speech and press. His most recent work, “Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century,” has fostered public discussion about the importance of topics such as global free speech and continued social progress. A native of California and a graduate of the University of Oregon and Columbia Law School, President Bollinger served as law clerk for Judge Wilfred Feinberg on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Chief Justice Warren Burger on the United States Supreme Court. He joined the University of Michigan Law School faculty in 1973, where he served as dean.  From 1996 to 2002, as president of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, he led the school’s historic litigation in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, United States Supreme Court decisions that upheld and clarified the importance of diversity as a compelling justification for affirmative action in higher education.  In 2011, President Bollinger served as the chair of the Board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and has served as a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board. He is a fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.  President Bollinger is the recipient of the National Humanitarian Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice and the National Equal Justice Award from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.


Joan Myers Brown, Honorary Doctor of Arts
Founder and Artistic Director,
PHILADANCO and The Philadelphia School of Dance Arts


Joan Myers Brown, former dancer, choreographer, and director, is the founder and Executive Artistic Director of the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts and the Philadelphia Dance Company (aka PHILADANCO). For decades, she has worked on behalf of dancers seeking opportunities in professional mainstream dance, providing scholarships, housing, and more. Today, PHILADANCO, which tours globally each year, is the resident modern dance company at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center. A native Philadelphian and West Philadelphia High School graduate, Ms. Brown founded the International Association of Blacks in Dance and the International Conference of Black Dance Companies. Ms. Brown is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, and serves as a member of the dance faculty at Howard University.  She also holds several honorary degrees.  In 2005, the Kennedy Center honored Ms. Brown as a Master of African American Choreography, and she is also the recipient of the prestigious Philadelphia Award and is A Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania. In 2012, Ms. Brown received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama, the nation's highest civic honor for excellence in the arts. Ms. Brown has served on numerous boards including Arts America, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts Council of Pennsylvania and several other states, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, and the Philadelphia Mayor's Cultural Advisory Council. She also served as vice president and was co-founder of the Coalition of African American Cultural Organizations and served on the choreographer's panel of the Rockefeller Foundation Arts & Humanities Program. Ms. Brown has received a host of other accolades throughout her career, including 3 Governor Awards and several Mayors Awards. Her legacy has been documented in the 2011 publication Joan Myers Brown & the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina: A Biohistory of American Performance by dance scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild.


Rita Moreno, Honorary Doctor of Arts
Actor, dancer, and musical performer
Recipient of the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards


Rita Moreno, performing artist and star of film, stage, and television, is one of only a very few “EGOT” winners, having received all four of the entertainment industry’s most prestigious awards: the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Her career spanning for more than six decades has been one of creative diversity, with appearances in over 40 feature films, countless television programs, and roles on both Broadway and London’s West End. A native of Puerto Rico, she made her Broadway debut at age 13. In true Hollywood tradition, Ms. Moreno, spotted by a talent scout, was signed to a film contract by MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer. Ms. Moreno went on to appear in many classic films, such as The King and I and Singin' in the Rain, among others. She won the Oscar in 1962 for her portrayal of Anita in West Side Story.  Ms. Moreno has been widely recognized by generations of children for her work on the highly-regarded educational program The Electric Company, and appearances on Sesame Street and the Muppet Show. Her recent television roles include TVLand's hit series Happily Divorced and the HBO series Oz.  Ever one of the entertainment industry’s busiest performers, Ms. Moreno premiered her one-woman repertory show Life Without Make-up in 2011, last year was the voice of Aunt Mimi in the animated film Rio 2, and just completed recording her first Spanish-language album. Her first book, Rita Moreno: A Memoir, was an instant New York Times bestseller. A popular lecturer, Ms. Moreno also volunteers her talents on behalf of many civic and charitable organizations. She is the recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts, and in 2014, she received the Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.


Ellen Ochoa, Honorary Doctor of Sciences
Director, NASA's Johnson Space Center
Scientist and astronaut


Ellen Ochoa is a veteran astronaut and the eleventh director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Center, which houses “Mission Control,” is home to NASA's astronaut corps and a technical workforce associated with all aspects of human spaceflight including flight operations. The Center’s first Hispanic director and only the second female to serve in that role, Dr. Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to go to space when she served on a nine-day mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993. Dr. Ochoa went on to log nearly 1,000 hours in space over four missions as a mission specialist, flight engineer, and payload commander. A California native, Dr. Ochoa received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics from San Diego State University and her Master of Science Degree and Doctorate in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. As a doctoral student at Stanford, and later as a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories and the NASA Ames Research Center, Dr. Ochoa investigated optical systems for performing information processing. She is a co-inventor on three patents for optical systems. Dr. Ochoa is the recipient of several NASA medals for distinguished service and outstanding leadership, as well as numerous other awards, including the Harvard Foundation Science Award, Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award, the Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution to Humanity, and the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award. She is a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Dr. Ochoa is honored to have four public schools named for her. 


Cass R. Sunstein, Honorary Doctor of Laws
Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University
Constitutional scholar


Cass R. Sunstein is an American legal scholar in the fields of constitutional, administrative, and environmental law, as well as law and behavioral economics. He is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard University and the founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School. From 2009 to 2012, Professor Sunstein served as the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and in 2013 was selected by the White House as a panel member to conduct a full review of U.S. surveillance programs. Professor Sunstein has testified before congressional committees on many subjects, and has been involved in constitution-making and law reform activities in a number of nations. For 27 years, he taught at the University of Chicago Law School where he was awarded the title of Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence in the Law School and Department of Political Science. A native of Massachusetts, Professor Sunstein is a graduate of Harvard University and the Harvard Law School. He served as a law clerk for Justice Benjamin Kaplan of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the United States Supreme Court.  He is the author and co-author of over 35 books and numerous articles, including, Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, and Valuing Life: Humanizing the Regulatory State. His latest book is Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter.  Professor Sunstein is also a contributing editor to The New Republic and The American Prospect. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Professor Sunstein is married to fellow honoree Ambassador Samantha Power.


Nominating an Honorary Degree Recipient

The Office of the University Secretary manages the honorary degrees process at Penn. All members of the University community are welcome to submit nominations. For information about qualifications and nominating honorary degree candidates, visit the University Secretary's Honorary Degrees website.

If you have questions or comments, please contact the Office of the University Secretary.