Emerson College will award four honorary degrees during the College’s 134th Commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 11, at the Agganis Arena at Boston University, 925 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston. The ceremony will be streamed live at emerson.edu/stream.
This year’s honorary degree recipients are former Tonight Show host and Emerson alumnus Jay Leno ’73, who will provide the undergraduate address; Scott Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition, who will provide the graduate address; Don Lemon, anchor of CNN Newsroom; and Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank.
Leno, Simon, Lemon, and D’Amato will each receive a Doctor of Humane Letters during the 134th annual undergraduate ceremony beginning at 10:00 am, which for the first time will be held at Agganis Arena at Boston University. Approximately 900 bachelor’s degrees will be conferred at the ceremony. More than 300 master’s degrees will be conferred during the graduate exercises, which start at 3:00 pm.
Jay Leno ’73, an Emerson alumnus, is widely characterized as “the hardest-working man in show business.” His late-night television domination has included two decades as the host of the number one-rated The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, following in the footsteps of legendary NBC late-night hosts Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson. He won an Emmy for “Outstanding Comedy, Variety, and Music Series” and the People’s Choice Award for “Favorite Late Night Show.” His newest endeavor, Jay Leno’s Garage, has won several Emmy Awards and nominations for “Outstanding Special Class: Short-Format Nonfiction.” An indefatigable performer, Leno tests his humor with live audiences across the nation, performing more than 100 times annually in nightclubs, theaters, and stadiums. His children’s books have been New York Times bestsellers, and he has done voiceover work for such films as Cars and Igor. A philanthropist committed to using his talents to benefit the less fortunate, he serves as master of ceremonies for numerous benefits, including those whose lives were devastated by the 9/11 tragedy, the tsunami in Thailand, hurricanes in the Gulf, and the severe economic downturn in Detroit. He leads the Love Ride in California to benefit numerous humanitarian organizations serving people with autism, muscular dystrophy, and the Special Olympics, among others.
Scott Simon hosts NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, which has an audience of 4.2 million listeners; the PBS television series Backstage with… that features his conversations with some of the biggest names in theater, including Tom Hanks, Patricia Heaton, and Katie Holmes; and Need to Know on PBS. He has reported from all 50 states and from every continent. He has covered 10 wars, hundreds of political campaigns, sieges, famines, hurricanes, earthquakes, civil wars, and scandals, state funerals, and opening nights. He has interviewed and profiled some of the most interesting personalities of our times, from Mother Teresa to Ariel Sharon and Wyclef Jean. He is the only journalist on board of the new National Institute for Civil Discourse (other members include Colin Powell and Bill Clinton). Simon also writes essays, novels, and nonfiction bestsellers. He received a special 1989 George Peabody Award for his weekly essays, which were cited for their sensitivity and literary style. He has written for The New York Times Book Review and Op-Ed pages, the Wall Street Journal opinion and book page, and The Los Angeles Times. His most recent book is the bestselling memoir titled Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other: In Praise of Adoption.
Don Lemon anchors CNN Newsroom during the weekend and serves as a correspondent across CNN’s programming. He has reported and anchored on-the-scene for CNN many breaking news stories since 2006, including the George Zimmerman trial, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Colorado theater shooting, the death of Whitney Houston, the inaugural of the 44th President, the death of Michael Jackson, and the Minneapolis bridge collapse. Lemon reported for the documentary Race and Rage: The Beating of Rodney King, which aired 20 years to the day of the beating. He is known for holding politicians and public figures accountable in his “No Talking Points” segment. In 2009, Ebony named him as one of the Ebony Power 150: the most influential Blacks in America. He won the Edward R. Murrow Award for his coverage of the Washington, D.C. snipers.
Catherine D’Amato, a tireless advocate for hunger relief for more than 30 years, became the president and CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) in 1997 after heading up the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and, before that, the San Francisco Food Bank. Under her vision and leadership, GBFB has been transformed into a nearly $65 million charitable food business with a state-of-the-art food distribution warehouse that leads the region in providing nutritious food to approximately 550 member hunger-relief agencies. These agencies serve as many as 545,000 people at risk of hunger in nine counties and 190 cities and towns in Eastern Massachusetts. The Greater Boston Food Bank distributes nearly 48 million pounds of food and groceries annually. She has won numerous awards for her leadership role in hunger relief, including the 2013 Achievement Award for Solidarity from the Consul General of Italy.