Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients, May 2017


The May 2017 Commencement and Honorary Degree Recipients will be announced in spring 2017.



Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipients, May 2016:


Lin-Manuel Miranda, Honorary Doctor of Arts and 2016 Commencement Speaker
Composer, writer, and performing artist
Pulitzer, Grammy, Tony, and MacArthur award recipient


Lin-Manuel Miranda is an award-winning composer, lyricist, and performer, as well as a 2015 MacArthur Foundation Award recipient. His current musical, Hamilton - the 2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Drama with book, music and lyrics by Mr. Miranda, in addition to him playing the title role - opened on Broadway in 2015 following a sold-out run at New York’s Public Theater. Off-Broadway, Hamilton received a record-breaking 10 Lortel Awards, as well as 3 Outer Critic Circle Awards, 8 Drama Desk Awards, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Musical, and an Obie for Best New American Play. A 2002 graduate of Wesleyan University, Mr. Miranda began work on his musical In the Heights while a student there. In the Heights received four 2008 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, with Mr. Miranda receiving a Tony Award for Best Score as well as an nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. In the Heights also received a Grammy Award for its Original Broadway Cast Album and was a 2009 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Drama. Mr. Miranda is the co-composer and co-lyricist of the Tony-nominated Bring it On: The Musical. He contributed Spanish translations for the 2009 Broadway revival of West Side Story. Mr. Miranda is a co-founder/member of the hip-hop improv group Freestyle Love Supreme. In 2014, Mr. Miranda received an Emmy Award with Tom Kitt for their song, “Bigger” from the 67th Annual Tony Awards telecast. Additional television and film appearances include “House,” “Modern Family,” “Sesame Street,” The Odd Life of Timothy Green and 200 Cartas. Mr. Miranda is the recipient of the ASCAP Foundation's Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award and the National Arts Club Medal of Honor. He serves as a Council Member of The Dramatists Guild, Board Member of Young Playwrights Inc., and as an appointee to New York City’s Theater Subdistrict Council.

Hawa Abdi, Honorary Doctor of Sciences
Human rights activist and physician
Founder and chairperson, Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation


Hawa Abdi is a Somali human rights activist and physician, and Somalia’s first female gynecologist. She is the founder and chairperson of the non-profit Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, which Dr. Abdi runs with her two physician daughters. Its mission is to create access to basic human rights for Somalians through sustainable institutions in healthcare, education, agriculture, and social entrepreneurship. Born in Mogadishu, Dr. Abdi attended medical school in Kiev on scholarship from the Women's Committee of the Soviet Union, graduating in 1971. She earned her law degree in 1979 at Somali National University, where she later became an Assistant Professor of Medicine. In 1983, on her family’s land, Dr. Abdi first opened her one-room clinic offering obstetric services to rural women. With the onset of civil war, her land became a refuge. By 2012, it housed more than 90,000 displaced by war and drought, most of whom were women, children, and the elderly. In recent years, Dr. Abdi has faced armed violence, siege, and kidnapping at the hands of militant rebels. Today, the Hawa Abdi Village encompasses a 400-bed hospital and school and offers residents shelter, fresh water, healthcare, and fishing and agricultural projects. Since its establishment, it has served an estimated two million people and saved tens of thousands of lives. Dr. Abdi’s memoir, “Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman, 90,000 Lives Changed” was published in 2013. She is a 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the recipient of the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award. Glamour Magazine named her and her daughters among its 2010 "Women of the Year." She also received the Women in the World Foundation’s Women of Impact Award, Vital Voices’ Women of the Year Award, BET's Social Humanitarian Award, and the John Jay Medal for Justice.

Elizabeth E. Bailey, Honorary Doctor of Sciences
John C. Hower Professor Emeritus of Business Economics
and Public Policy, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania


Elizabeth E. Bailey is the John C. Hower Professor Emeritus of Business Economics and Public Policy at Penn’s Wharton School. Professor Bailey is renowned for her decades of research on economic regulation and deregulation, contestability theory, market structure, and corporate governance and social responsibility.

Joining Wharton in 1991, she served as professor and chair of the Department of Business and Public Policy before retiring in 2010. Dr. Bailey was also a professor and dean of the Graduate School of Industrial Administration at Carnegie Mellon University from 1983 until 1991, and a visiting scholar at the Yale School of Organization and Management. After receiving degrees from Radcliffe College and Stevens Institute of Technology, Dr. Bailey was the first female doctoral candidate in economics at Princeton University, receiving her Ph.D. in 1972. Dr. Bailey’s career began at Bell Laboratories, where she rose through the company's ranks to eventually head its Economics Research department. Throughout her career, Dr. Bailey has held many leadership roles in the corporate and public sectors. She was a trustee of the Brookings Institution, with which she was associated for over 25 years. In 1977, President Carter appointed her as the first female commissioner of the Civil Aeronautics Board, where she played an instrumental role in U.S. airline industry deregulation. The author of numerous journal articles, Dr. Bailey was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997. A former vice president of the American Economics Association, Dr. Bailey headed its Committee on the Status of Women in Economics. She was also a member and president of the Eastern Economics Association and chair of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Dr. Bailey is a former trustee of Princeton University and served on the boards for numerous corporations, including TIAA-CREF.

David Brooks, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Author; political and cultural commentator
New York Times columnist


Journalist, commentator, and author David Brooks is both an honoree and Penn’s 2016 Baccalaureate speaker. He has been an op-ed columnist for the New York Times since 2003, writing on a broad range of sociological, cultural, political, and moral issues.  For nearly two decades Mr. Brooks has appeared on “The PBS Newshour,” NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He is the author of four books, including “Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There,” “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement,” as well as the 2015 New York Times bestseller “The Road to Character.” A native of Toronto, Canada, Mr. Brooks is a graduate of the University of Chicago. Upon graduation, he became a police reporter for the City News Bureau, a wire service owned jointly by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times, and later worked for The Washington Times. During his nine-year tenure at The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Brooks was posted in Brussels, reporting on Russia, the Middle East, South Africa, and European affairs, and later was an op-ed editor. He also served as a senior editor at The Weekly Standard for nine years, and as a contributing editor for The Atlantic and Newsweek. His articles have appeared in The New Yorker, Forbes, The Washington Post, The TLS, Commentary, The Public Interest and many other periodicals. Mr. Brooks is also editor of the anthology "Backward and Upward: The New Conservative Writing.” He served as a visiting professor at Duke University's Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy in 2006, and has taught on humility at Yale University. Mr. Brooks is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. In 2011, he was honored by the American Sociological Association for Excellence in Reporting of Social Issues.

Renée Fleming, Honorary Doctor of Music
Opera and classical performing artist
Grammy and National Medal of Arts recipient


Renée Fleming, one of the most celebrated musical artists of our time, has graced the world’s greatest opera stages and concert halls with her sumptuous soprano and compelling stage presence. Her recitals have spanned five continents; she notably performed at President Obama’s 2009 inaugural celebration, the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony, the 2014 Super Bowl, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for the Diamond Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II, and at the Brandenburg Gate on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Having studied at the Eastman School of Music and the Julliard School, in 1991 Ms. Fleming debuted with the first of over 240 performances at the Metropolitan Opera and is the first woman in its 125-year history to solo headline an opening night gala. Ms. Fleming has hosted numerous television and radio broadcasts, including the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series and Live from Lincoln Center on PBS. Known for bringing new audiences to classical music and opera, Renée has sung not only with Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo but also with Elton John, Sting, Lou Reed, Josh Groban, and Joan Baez.Her recording repertoire spans many genres, including classical, jazz, indie-rock and pop, and has garnered international honors including four Grammy Awards. In 2010, Ms. Fleming became the first Creative Consultant at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She is a Trustee of the Carnegie Hall Corporation, and serves on the boards of the Asia Society, Sing for Hope and the Polyphony Foundation. Among Ms. Fleming’s many accolades are the National Medal of Arts, the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal, the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, Honorary Membership in the Royal Academy of Music, Germany’s Cross of the Order of Merit, and the Victoire d’Honneur by the French Victoires de la Musique.

Sylvester James Gates, Jr., Honorary Doctor of Sciences
John S. Toll Professor of Physics and Director,
Center for String and Particle Theory, University of Maryland


Sylvester James “Jim” Gates, Jr. is an American theoretical physicist known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. The recipient of two B.S. degrees and a Ph.D. degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his doctoral thesis was the first at MIT to deal with supersymmetry. Dr. Gates is a University System Regents Professor, the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Director of its String and Particle Theory Center, and Affiliate Professor of Mathematics. He serves on President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and on the Maryland State Board of Education. In 1984, he co-authored Superspace, the first comprehensive text book on supersymmetry. .  In 2006, he completed a DVD series entitled Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality, 24 half-hour lectures making the complexities of unification theory understandable for non-physicists.  Dr. Gates is regularly featured on science documentary programs.  In 2015, there were “The Big Bang Machine,” “The Great Math Mystery,”  and “Inside Einstein’s Mind” as well as three others.  He is, a fellow and past president of the National Society of Black Physicists, and a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Institute of Physics in the United Kingdom. Dr. Gates is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and in 2013 was the first African-American physicist elected to the National Academy of Sciences in its 150-year history. In 2013, President Obama awarded Dr. Gates the Medal of Science, the nation’s highest award given to scientists. Dr. Gates continues his research in supersymmetry in systems of particles, fields, and strings.

Asma Jahangir, Honorary Doctor of Laws
Human rights activist and lawyer
Founding member, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan


Asma Jahangir is a Pakistani human rights lawyer who throughout her career has defended the most vulnerable Pakistani citizens – women, children, religious minorities, and the poor. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Ms. Jahangir is a graduate of Kinnaird College of Lahore and received her law degree from Punjab University.  In 2010, Ms. Jahangir became the first woman elected as the President of Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. Ms. Jahangir’s work has resulted in landmark cases promoting human rights and democratic values, often at the risk of her own safety as she has faced beatings, death threats, arrest, and imprisonment. In 1986, Ms. Jahangir founded the first legal aid centre and women’s shelter in Pakistan and partnered to form Pakistan’s first law firm established by women. She is a founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and served as its chair. She has co-chaired the South Asia Forum for Human Rights and served as vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights. Ms. Jahangir has also acted as the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary or Summary Executions and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief. She is the recipient of a number of awards and honors, including the Millennium Peace Prize, UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights, the North-South Award of the Council of Europe, the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award of Germany, and the Pro Dignitate Humana Award of Poland. Jahangir has also received the Freedom of Religion award from the Dutch-based Four Freedoms Foundation, Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award, the awards Hilal-i-Imtiaz and Sitara-i-Imtiaz, among Pakistan’s highest honors, and Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, in 2014 she was awarded an Officier de la Légion d'honneur by France. Ms. Jahangir is the author of two books: “Divine Sanction? The Hudood Ordinance” and “Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan.”

Eric R. Kandel, Honorary Doctor of Sciences
University Professor and Director, Kavli Institute for Brain Science
Columbia University


Eric R. Kandel is a renowned neuroscientist whose work has sought to illuminate the molecular mechanisms underlying learning and memory. He is University Professor at Columbia University, Kavli Professor and Director at the Kavli Institute for Brain Science, Co-Director at the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, and a Senior Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. A graduate of Harvard College and NYU School of Medicine, Dr. Kandel trained in neurobiology at the NIH and in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. In 1974, he joined Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons as the founding director of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior. Dr. Kandel is an editor of Principles of Neural Science, the field’s standard textbook now in its fifth edition. His 2006 book for the general public, In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, won both the Los Angeles Times and National Academy of Science Awards for best book in Science and Technology and resulted in a film documentary. In 2012, Dr. Kandel’s book, The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present, received Austria’s Bruno-Kreisky Award in Literature. In 2000, Dr. Kandel received the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. He has also been recognized with the Albert Lasker Award, the Heineken Award of the Netherlands, the Gairdner Award of Canada, the Harvey Prize and the Wolf Prize of Israel, and the National Medal of Science. Dr. Kandel is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and of the National Science Academies of Austria, France, Germany, and Greece, and is a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London.


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.