Insight on Honorary Degrees by Michal Regunberg

​If you watched coverage of Harvard University's Commencement and wondered why Oprah Winfrey or our own Mayor Thomas Menino were awarded "Honorary Doctor of Law" degrees, there is a method to the pomp and circumstance. I consulted a colleague at Brandeis, where I was deeply involved in helping to determine which "big name" folks we could attract every year for their accomplishments, obviously, but also for the "glitz factor" they would bring to the university. So here's the explanation: Elected officials, heads of state, and individuals who are being honored for their civic or government service-like Mayor Menino — generally receive a doctor of laws. Individuals being honored for accomplishments in a specific field — e.g. artists, musicians, scientists — generally receive an honorary doctor of arts, doctor of science, doctor of music, etc. Individuals being honored for their good works — philanthropists, and social activists, generally receive a doctor of humane letters. The art of the honorary degree is to bestow the honor on those who reflect the values of the institution. While I was at Brandeis, among those who were so honored were: the first honorary degree to Barbra Streisand, Shimon Peres, the former Prime Minister and current President of Israel, Art Buchwald, George Burns (we even traveled to Los Angeles to present him with the doctorate), the Dalai Lama, Frank Gehry, Dale Chilhuly and many others. (You can see a full list of Brandeis honorary degree recipients here.) And by the way, congratulations Dr. Menino! By Michal Regunberg, Senior Vice President at Solomon McCown & Company

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