Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients, May 2015

The 2015 Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree recipients will be announced in the spring.

Honorary Degree Recipients, May 2014


Eugenio Calabi, Honorary Doctor of Sciences
Thomas A. Scott Professor of Mathematics Emeritus,
University of Pennsylvania


Eugenio Calabi, Penn's Thomas A. Scott Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, is a visionary mathematician whose work has had profound implications well beyond his own field of complex differential geometry. In the 1950s, Professor Calabi set forth his now famous "Calabi Conjecture" regarding the structure of certain abstract spaces. The manifolds he theorized were subsequently proven, and they unleashed new directions in differential geometry. Today, more than half a century later, his prescient work also has revolutionized theoretical physics by providing the foundation for string theory and is now viewed by many as a model of the universe. Born in Milan, Italy, Professor Calabi earned a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1946 and a Master of Arts from the University of Illinois in 1947. He took his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1950 at Princeton University, where he also served as an instructor. He then joined the faculty of Louisiana State University and later the University of Minnesota. His arrival at Penn in 1964 was a seen as a significant step in modernizing the University's mathematics department, and his presence attracted a number of promising junior faculty members and distinguished visitors. For his many accomplishments, he was awarded the Scott Professorship, the second-oldest chair in the School of Arts and Sciences, in 1968 and held it until his retirement in 1993. Professor Calabi's other honors include election to the National Academy of Sciences and the Leroy Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Mathematics from the American Mathematical Society, of which he is a fellow. The author of more than 40 influential papers, Professor Calabi has been welcomed as a visitor at renowned institutions around the world, including the University of Pisa, L'Institut des Hautes √Čtudes Scientifiques, and the Institute for Advanced Study.


Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Director, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art
Former President, Spelman College


Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole was appointed the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) in March, 2009. NMAfA is the only national museum in the United States that collects, conserves, exhibits and educates about the traditional and contemporary visual arts of Africa. Through its exhibitions, educational programs and outreach to diverse communities, NMAfA fosters the discovery and appreciation of the arts and cultures of Africa, the cradle of humanity. Before assuming her current position, Johnnetta Cole had a long and distinguished career as an educator and humanitarian. She is President Emerita of Spelman College and Bennett College for Women. She is the only person to have served as president of these two Historically Black Colleges for women in the United States. She is also Professor Emerita of Emory University from which she retired as Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Women's Studies and African American Studies. Dr. Cole was the first African American to serve as the Chair of the Board of United Way of America. She currently serves on a number of boards, including the board of trustees of the Association of Art Museum Directors. Through her work as a college president, university professor and museum director, and through her published works, speeches and community service, she has consistently addressed issues of diversity and inclusion in the United States and around the world. Dr. Cole is the recipient of numerous awards including the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal, the Alexis de Tocqueville Award for Community Service from United Way of America, the Joseph Prize for Human Rights presented by the Anti-Defamation League and the George Washington Carver Award. Dr. Cole is a fellow of the American Anthropological Association and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Edna Adan Ismail, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Director and Founder, Edna Adan Maternity Hospital
Founder, Edna Adan University, Hargeisa, Republic of Somaliland


In 1961, Edna Adan Ismail became Somaliland and Somalia's first qualified nurse/midwife when she returned to her homeland after training in the United Kingdom. Her career has been dedicated to improving health conditions, reducing the rates of maternal and infant mortality, and providing health care for thousands of women and children. Through the years, she has served in many roles for the World Health Organization, as a nurse/midwife educator, an advisor for issues relating to maternal and child health, including gender issues and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, and as the WHO representative in the Republic of Djibouti where she served until her retirement in 1997. Upon her retirement, she personally funded, built, and opened in 2002 the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Somaliland. The hospital is a major referral hospital as well as a teaching hospital for nurses, midwives, and other health professionals, including medical students and anaesthesia technicians. Ms. Ismail became the first and only woman Minister in the government of Somaliland when she assumed the role of Minister of Social Affairs in 2002, and from 2003 to 2006, she served as Somaliland's Foreign Minister. In 2012, Ms. Ismail opened the Edna Adan University which trains nurses, midwives, laboratory technicians, pharmacists, and public health students. Ms. Ismail has received numerous awards, including several honorary degrees, and is an Honorary Fellow of Cardiff University, School of Nursing in Wales. In 2010, Ms. Ismail was knighted 'Chevalier dans l'ordre Nationale de la Legion d'Honneur' by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and was also awarded the President's Gold Medal from the University of Pretoria, South Africa for her humanitarian efforts. Ms. Ismail was inducted into the Medical Mission Hall of Fame in 2007.


John Legend, C'99, Honorary Doctor of Music
Golden Globe and Grammy-award winning songwriter and musician; 2015 Oscar nominee
Founder, Show Me Campaign


John Legend is a nine-time Grammy Award-winning soul artist celebrated as much for his social activism as for his impressive musical talents. The University of Pennsylvania graduate achieved super-stardom with his 2004 platinum-selling CD Get Lifted. At the time a back-up musician and vocalist on recordings by well-known artists such as Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, and Kanye West, Mr. Legend went on to success in his own right with hit singles such as "Ordinary People," "Heaven," and "Green Light." Known in Penn circles by his birth name, John Stephens, Mr. Legend graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1999 with a degree in English and a concentration in African-American literature and culture. A singer and performer since childhood, he recorded his own albums at Penn, directed the choir of a nearby church, and served as the president and musical director of Counterparts, the University's coed a cappella jazz group. His lead vocals on a Counterparts album earned the group a place on the 1998 Best of Collegiate A Cappella CD. Mr. Legend has used his success to draw attention to causes such as educational disparities and global poverty. He sits on the boards of Teach for America, Stand for Children, and the Harlem Village Academies. He also serves on the Advisory Council for Turnaround and is an "IRC Voice" for the International Rescue Committee. In 2007, he launched the Show Me Campaign, an organization that works to break the cycle of poverty by providing access to quality education internationally. His social contributions have been recognized with the 2010 BET Humanitarian of the Year award, the 2009 CARE Humanitarian Award for Global Change, Africare's 2009 Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award, and the 2012 Harvard Foundation Artist of the Year Award.


Raymond G. Perelman, W'40, Honorary Doctor of Laws
CEO, RGP Holdings
Trustee, Raymond and Ruth Perelman Education Foundation


Raymond G. Perelman is a Philadelphia native son and the CEO of the multinational RGP Holdings, Inc., with financial, manufacturing, and mineral interests. Together with his late wife Ruth, Mr. Perelman's civic leadership translated to transformative philanthropy on behalf of educational, medical, and cultural institutions throughout the region. The Perelmans' 2011 gift to create a permanent endowment for Penn's medical school, which was renamed the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, was the single largest gift in Penn's history, making incomparable provisions for medical research, student financial aid and for faculty and clinician educator recruitment. The Ruth and Raymond Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, an innovative treatment and research facility, opened at Penn in 2008. And each year, thousands of Philadelphians enjoy the Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. Mr. Perelman is a World War II veteran of the U.S. Air Force; his professional career spanning eight decades began with the family business, American Paper Products Company, where he worked alongside his father. Through the years, Mr. Perelman was the head of a number of companies, including the Belmont Iron Works and General Refractories Company, which was publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Mr. Perelman is the Trustee for four charitable foundations which support Jewish cultural and welfare organizations, arts and history museums, and other cultural institutions. Mr. Perelman has served for many years on various boards, including Penn Medicine, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Temple University Hospital, The National Museum of American Jewish History, and Albert Einstein Health Center. In 2012, he received an honorary degree from Drexel University. Dedicated throughout his life to his alma mater, Mr. Perelman is also a proud Penn parent and grandparent.


Olympia J. Snowe, Honorary Doctor of Laws
Former United States Senator
Chairman and CEO, Olympia Snowe LLC


Former United States Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) is the first woman in American history to have served in both houses of Congress and both houses of a state legislature. She served three terms in the U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2013 and was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 16 years. As a senior member of the Senate's powerful Finance, Commerce and Intelligence, and Small Business committees, Senator Snowe had a pivotal role in addressing far-reaching legislative issues, including the country's response to the September 2001 terrorist attacks, the 2008 financial crisis, and the Affordable Healthcare Act. Her election to the House at age 31 made her the youngest Republican woman and the first Greek-American woman ever elected to Congress. While in the House, she co-chaired the Congressional Caucus on Women's issues for ten years. The third-longest serving woman in the history of Congress, Senator Snowe entered politics in 1973 when she was elected to the Maine House of Representatives to complete the unfinished term of her deceased husband. She was re-elected in 1974 and in 1976 won election to Maine's senate. A well-known centrist and co-chair of the Senate Centrist Coalition for seven years, Snowe is critical of what she views as Congress' increasingly partisan nature. In 2013, she authored the book Fighting for Common Ground: How to Fix the Stalemate in Congress. Today she is a communications and policy consultant, a Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and a member of the board of T. Rowe Price Group, Inc. She also serves on the National Advisory Board of the National Institute for Civil Discourse. Senator Snowe earned a degree in political science from the University of Maine in 1969 and holds many honorary degrees.


George A. Weiss, WG'65, Honorary Doctor of Laws
CEO, Weiss Multi-Strategy Advisers LLC
Founder and Chairman, Say Yes to Education Foundation


Mr. George A. Weiss, a1965 graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has served as a University Trustee since 1988 and as the Board's Vice Chair. Mr. Weiss was Chair of the University's record-breaking Making History campaign, which surpassed its goals by raising $4.3 billion in support of key Penn priorities. Mr. Weiss is president of George Weiss Associates, Inc., which he founded in 1978, and CEO of Weiss Multi-Strategy Advisors, LLC. He believes that access to post- secondary education can truly change lives, especially for students facing enormous social and financial challenges. As such, Mr. Weiss is the founder and chairman of the Say Yes to Education Foundation, which began in 1987 with his promise to pay the full costs of college or vocational training for 112 students at the Belmont Elementary School, located in one of Philadelphia's most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Today, the Say Yes program includes 65,000 students in five cities, providing support services to include free tuition, tutoring, mentoring, and health care. Mr. Weiss is now a former member of Athletics and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Penn Medicine Board. Long active in alumni affairs and a strong supporter of Penn athletics, Mr. Weiss' deep commitment to student financial aid led to his establishing a number of endowed funds and challenge grants. He has also provided faculty support through five endowed chairs in three schools at Penn. Mr. Weiss established the Wharton School's Weiss Real Estate Center and the Weiss Center for International Financial Research, and Penn's Weiss Technology House, an innovative interdisciplinary initiative. Mr. Weiss is a regent of the University of Hartford and has received many honorary degrees, and humanitarian awards, including Penn's Alumni Award of Merit, the Marine Corps Foundation Semper Fidelis Award, the Michael Jackson Good Scout Humanitarian Award by the Boy Scouts of America's Los Angeles Area Council and the Cleveland E. Dodge Medal for Distinguished Service from Columbia University.


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.