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A List of Every Person to Receive an Honorary Degree from Emerson College

Emerson College awarded honorary degrees for the first time in 1955. Eighteen people were honored as part of that inaugural group. Since then, more than 300 people have been recipients of honorary degrees.

Two men in front of a bulletin board
Right to left: Charles W. Dudley, founder of WERS and chair of the Broadcasting department; and Bob Fleming, Emerson College archivist, on May 9, 1987, at an alumni brunch. Dudley received an honorary degrees in 1955.

From that first group, two received a Doctor of Laws, 12 received a Master of Arts, and three people received a Doctor of Humane Letters. Unlike honorees from the past several decades, there were no hugely famous recipients in 1955. One of the more noteworthy honorees was the founder of WERS and chair of the Broadcasting Department, Charles W. Dudley.

As the decades went along, Emerson awarded honorary degrees to many people; some were already alums, and others were connected to industries that Emerson students studied.

Depending on your cultural references, the first nationally-known honoree was Richard “Red” Skelton in 1961. He starred on television and radio starting in the 1930s, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

vin dibona giving thumbs up
Vin DiBona ’66

The majority of honorees have received a Doctor of Humane Letters. Honorees have also been awarded with a Doctor of Laws, Doctor of Literature, Master of Arts, and in 1983, Alfred D. Sensenbach became the one and only honoree to be awarded a Doctor of Fine Arts. Since 2009, Emerson has only awarded Doctor of Humane Letters to honorees.

A look back through the decades and you’ll see quite a bit of famous names. Norman Lear ’44 received a Doctor of Humane Letters in 1968. Other honorees include journalist David Frost, author John Updike, actor Alan Alda, actor Ben Vereen, actress Marlee Matlin, comedian Jerry Lewis, actor James Earl Jones, actress Jane Fonda, and comedian Carol Burnett.

Along with Lear, famous alums who received honorary degrees include Henry Winkler ‘67 (whose mentor, Professor Emerita Charlotte Lindgren, received one several years before him), Vin DiBona ‘66, Jay Leno ’73, Denis Leary ’70, and Bobbi Brown ‘79.

screen shot of joe biden in regalia at podium
President Joe Biden speaks during graduation ceremonies in 2003.

Noted politicians to receive degrees include current U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the late civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, and in 2003, President (then-Senator) Joe Biden was honored with a Doctor of Laws.

All research to create this exhaustive list was performed by the Emerson Archives & Special Collections Department.

Journalist Soledad O’Brien received an honorary degree in 2019. Photo/Christopher McIntosh

Check out the entire list:

Honorary Degrees
YearCeremonyHonoreeDegree
    
1955 Julius S. BixlerDoctor of Laws
  Edna Allen DoriotMaster of Arts
  George F. DoriotDoctor of Laws
  Clare Plaummer Dresser ’92Master of Arts
  Charles W. DudleyMaster of Arts
  Rev. Rowland Gray-SmithMaster of Arts
  Jessie Royer Greaves ’01Doctor of Humane Letters
  Lillian Rose Hartigan ’12Master of Arts
  William Howland KenneyMaster of Arts
  Lynn Lunt (Lynn Fontanne)Doctor of Humane Letters
  S. Justus McKinleyMaster of Arts
  June Hamblin Mitchell ’35Master of Arts
  Rev. Richard Donald PierceMaster of Arts
  Samuel Dowse RobbinsDoctor of Humane Letters
  Helen Volansky Rose ’38Master of Arts
  Jessie Eldridge SouthwickMaster of Arts
  Lowell ThomasDoctor of Laws
  Barbara Wellington ’18Master of Arts
    
1956 Helen Hunt ArnoldMaster of Arts
  Alexander BrinDoctor of Literature
  F. Curtis CanfieldDoctor of Laws
  Anna Williams CutlerMaster of Arts
  Carl S. EllDoctor of Laws
  Herbert J. GezorkDoctor of Laws
  Florence Stiles Lewis ’37Master of Arts
  Robert J. MunceDoctor of Laws
  Harriet Diven Nesbitt ’24Master of Arts
  Helen T. PattenMaster of Arts
  Jacob Weslet ReevesMaster of Arts
    
1957 Vernon R. Alden ’45Doctor of Laws
  Sylvia Folsom Bushnell ’19Master of Arts
  Harold C. CaseDoctor of Laws
  Mary A. DoehlerMaster of Arts
  Clara F. FraserMaster of Arts
  Claude Moore FuessDoctor of Laws
  Rev. Duncan HowlettDoctor of Laws
  Catherine Croswell Perry ’20Master of Arts
  Irene K. ThresherDoctor of Humane Letters
    
1958 Dana Meserve CottonDoctor of Laws
  H. Barrett Davi ’29Master of Arts
  Janet Yorston Goldberg ’37Master of Arts
  Donald W. GoodrichDoctor of Laws
  William Howland KenneyDoctor of Literature
  Elizabeth Wellington Lord ’57Master of Arts
  Herbert I. MargolisDoctor of Humane Letters
  Grover J. OberleMaster of Arts
  Elsie Rutherford RiddellDoctor of Literature
  John Francis Sheilds ’38Master of Arts
  Melville SmithDoctor of Literature
  Jacob SteinMaster of Arts
  Joseph Nye WelchDoctor of Laws
    
1959 Bernice L Caswell ’20Master of Arts
  Allen H.W. HigginsDoctor of Laws
  William Francis KeeslerDoctor of Laws
  William Edgar ParkDoctor of Laws
  Richard WallDoctor of Laws
  Edward A. WeeksDoctor of Literature
  John W. Zorn ’34Master of Arts
    
1960 Astrid Linnea Anderson ’29Master of Arts
  Philip G. CashmanDoctor of Humane Letters
  Bill Dana ’50Master of Arts
  Joseph KaplanDoctor of Laws
  Asa S. KnowlesDoctor of Laws
  Leslie W. LeavittDoctor of Laws
  Ralph LowellDoctor of Laws
  Alice Moss LyonsDoctor of Laws
  Ethel Currie Odell ’13Master of Arts
  Mary Danforth Wappker ’24Master of Arts
  Roger C. WilderMaster of Arts
  Amelia Green Wyner ’13Master of Arts
    
1961 Coleman BenderMaster of Arts
  Henry Stewart CarterDoctor of Literature
  Gertrude Binley KayDoctor of Literature
  Rev. Walter D. KringDoctor of Laws
  Anne D. MacDougall ’36Master of Arts
  Robert E. MoodyDoctor of Laws
  Richard “Red” SkeltonDoctor of Literature
  Douglas SloaneDoctor of Humane Letters
  Patria Gerald WinalskiMaster of Arts
  Erma Southard Winters ’36Doctor of Laws
    
1962 Nelson W. AldrichDoctor of Laws
  Helena Cook Beale ’25Doctor of Laws
  Margaret Just Butcher ’34Master of Arts
  Alford CarletonDoctor of Laws
  Stweart Lee GarrisonDoctor of Humane Letters
  Gertrude Morrison ’15Master of Arts
  Dora Mitnick NahumMaster of Arts
  Ruth Adams Parker ’10Master of Arts
  Mary Pickford RogersDoctor of Humane Letters
  Margaret E. StewardDoctor of Humane Letters
  Rev. Rhys WilliamsDoctor of Laws
    
1963 Mark BortmanDoctor of Humane Letters
  Rev. Lancelot A. GarrardDoctor of Laws
  Leonidas A. Nickole ’49Master of Arts
  Elliott NortonDoctor of Literature
  George S. RichardsonDoctor of Humane Letters
  Barbara Christie Samuels ’41Master of Arts
  Robert W. SarnoffDoctor of Literature
  William B. Spink ’38Master of Arts
  Russell H. StaffordDoctor of Literature
  Malcolm R. SutherlandDoctor of Laws
    
1964 Albert Bush-BrownDoctor of Laws
  Josiah Floyd BuzzardDoctor of Laws
  Hon. Charles W. ColeDoctor of Laws
  Edward F. GildayDoctor of Literature
  Rev. Rowland Gray-SmithDoctor of Literature
  Mary Larlin Huddy ’07Doctor of Laws
  Loomis PatrickDoctor of Laws
  George ShermanDoctor of Humane Letters
    
1965 Hon. Edward W. BrookeDoctor of Laws
  John F. Chapman ’24Doctor of Laws
  Rev. Canon W. David CrockettDoctor of Laws
  John KieltyDoctor of Laws
  Lt. Col. Lewis L. MillettDoctor of Humane Letters
  Harry N. Nickerson ’51Master of Arts
  Robert PettittMaster of Arts
  Russell T. SmithDoctor of Literature
  Roger B. TylerDoctor of Laws
    
1966 Felix ForteDoctor of Laws
  Donald H. McGannonDoctor of Laws
  F. McLaughlin ’35Doctor of Literature
  Dorothy Hall ParkhurstDoctor of Literature
  Roy Messer PearsonDoctor of Laws
  Catherine Croswell Perry ’20Doctor of Humane Letters
  Rev. Richard Donald PierceDoctor of Laws
  S. Richard SilvermanDoctor of Laws
    
1967 Edward AlbeeDoctor of Literature
  Linton AndrewsDoctor of Literature
  Roger W. ArnoldMaster of Arts
  Paul L. BeaneMaster of Arts
  Ross CannonDoctor of Laws
  Thomas H. Dahill, Jr.Master of Arts
  Herbert H. HarwoodDoctor of Laws
  Charlotte H. LindgrenMaster of Arts
  Ruth Southwick Maxfield ’15Doctor of Literature
  S. Justus McKinleyDoctor of Humane Letters
  John T.G. NicholsDoctor of Laws
  Charles E. PhillipsMaster of Arts
  Cornelia Otis SkinnerDoctor of Literature
    
1968 John Edward FentonDoctor of Laws
  Howard B. JeffersonDoctor of Laws
  Norman Lear ’43Doctor of Humane Letters
  Elma Ina Lewis ’43Doctor of Humane Letters
  Joseph E. LevineDoctor of Humane Letters
  W. Webster McCannDoctor of Humane Letters
    
1969 Elmer E. BakerDoctor of Literature
  Ralph Arthur BurnsDoctor of Laws
  Yousuf KarshDoctor of Humane Letters
  Hon. Elliot L. RichardsonDoctor of Laws
  Charles E. ShainDoctor of Literature
  Col. Thomas P. StaffordDoctor of Laws
    
1970 Stuart ChaseDoctor of Humane Letters
  David FrostDoctor of Laws
  Alanson B. HoughtonDoctor of Laws
  John UpdikeDoctor of Literature
    
1971 Erwin D. CanhamDoctor of Laws
  Arthur FiedlerDoctor of Literature
  Hal PrinceDoctor of Literature
  Rod SerlingDoctor of Humane Letters
    
1972 Richard ChapinDoctor of Humane Letters
  R. Buckminster FullerDoctor of Laws
  Laura Cabot HodgkinsonDoctor of Literature
  DeHaven RossMaster of Arts
  Charles I. SchottlandDoctor of Laws
    
1973 Chester F. Collier ’50Doctor of Humane Letters
  Donald GrunewaldDoctor of Literature
  Edith Bladeslee PhelpsDoctor of Literature
  Agnes H. PowersMaster of Arts
  Eugene Wesley RoddenberryDoctor of Humane Letters
  Frank StantonDoctor of Laws
    
1974 Louis George CowanDoctor of Literature
  Elmer W. LowerDoctor of Laws
  Edwin Wilson Martin, Jr.Doctor of Humane Letters
    
1975 Wallace Alger BaconDoctor of Humane Letters
  Nancy HanksDoctor of Humane Letters
  Ada Louise HuxtableDoctor of Literature
  John. M. LavineDoctor of Laws
  Lee RemickDoctor of Laws
  Helvi SipliaDoctor of Laws
  Thomas WickerDoctor of Humane Letters
    
1976 Schuyler Garrison ChapinDoctor of Literature
  Bong Soo LeeDoctor of Laws
  Robert E. LeestamperDoctor of Laws
  John P. McGovernDoctor of Humane Letters
  Andrija PuharichDoctor of Laws
  Maurice H. SavalDoctor of Laws
  Richard E. SmoloweDoctor of Laws
  Robert Jospeh WusslerDoctor of Laws
    
1977 Alan AldaDoctor of Humane Letters
  Morton N. Dubitsky (Dean) ’57Doctor of Humane Letters
  Patricia Neighbors ’43Doctor of Laws
  Roderick Parker ’51Doctor of Laws
  Benjamin A. VereenDoctor of Humane Letters
    
1978 Jeffrey AuerDoctor of Laws
  Art BuchenwaldDoctor of Literature
  Donis DondisDoctor of Literature
  Edna Allen DoriotDoctor of Humane Letters
  Marian SeldesDoctor of Humane Letters
  Jean StapletonDoctor of Humane Letters
  Henry F. WinklerDoctor of Humane Letters
    
1979 Hon. Paul E. TsongasDoctor of Laws
  Pedro Thomas VasquezDoctor of Laws
  Oliver WoodruffDoctor of Laws
    
1980 Tharon MusserDoctor of Humane Letters
  Michael SchultzDoctor of Humane Letters
  Carol BurnettDoctor of Humane Letters
  June H. MitchellDoctor of Literature
  Thomas P. O’NeillDoctor of Laws
  Cardinal Umberto MedierosDoctor of Laws
    
1981 Betty W. AthertonDoctor of Humane Letters
  Coleman C. BenderDoctor of Humane Letters
  Mervyn E. GriffinDoctor of Humane Letters
  Leonard H. GoldensonDoctor of Humane Letters
  Virgil ThomsonDoctor of Literature
    
1982 Leo Leroy BeranekDoctor of Laws
  Daniel J. TravantiDoctor of Humane Letters
    
1983 Tony SchwartzDoctor of Humane Letters
  Alfred D. SensenbachDoctor of Fine Arts
    
1984 Peggy CharrenDoctor of Humane Letters
  Sylvia RichardsonDoctor of Literature
  John Bernard DuffDoctor of Laws
  Jack ValentiDoctor of Laws
    
1985 Dorothy E. RoweDoctor of Laws
  Julian J. SmithDoctor of Laws
  Isabel SanfordDoctor of Humane Letters
    
1986 Charlotte I. LeeDoctor of Literature
  Roger DaneDoctor of Laws
  Hon. Mark O. HatfieldDoctor of Laws
    
1987 Frank A. TredinnickDoctor of Laws
  Fred W. FriendlyDoctor of Laws
  Naomi Stroh JanoverDoctor of Humane Letters
  William WorkDoctor of Laws
    
1988 Richard A. DysartDoctor of Laws
  Nikos PsacharopoulosDoctor of Humane Letters
  Liv UllmanDoctor of Humane Letters
  Marie Langster BooneMaster of Arts
  Ruth FritzDoctor of Humane Letters
    
1989 Michael S. DukakisDoctor of Humane Letters
  David Curtis KnappDoctor of Laws
  George GerbnerDoctor of Humane Letters
  Steven BochcoDoctor of Literature
    
1990 Pran DithDoctor of Laws
  Kathleen TurnerDoctor of Literature
    
1991 Thomas J. BrokawDoctor of Humane Letters
  Michael Jay SolomonDoctor of Laws
    
1992 Lucille S. SalhanyDoctor of Humane Letters
  Irma Mann StearnsDoctor of Humane Letters
  John C. ZacharisDoctor of Humane Letters
  Edward J. MarkeyDoctor of Laws
  Patricia McGovernDoctor of Laws
    
1993 Roger Monroe KingDoctor of Laws
  Jerry LewisDoctor of Humane Letters
  Marlee MatlinDoctor of Humane Letters
  Mary E. MooreDoctor of Humane Letters
  James St. ClairDoctor of Laws
    
1994 Vincent J. DiBonaDoctor of Humane Letters
  James Earl JonesDoctor of Humane Letters
  Kay KoplovitzDoctor of Humane Letters
  Eckhardt C. BeckDoctor of Laws
  Enrique F. SeniorDoctor of Laws
    
1995 Henry HamptonDoctor of Humane Letters
  Donald ThurstonDoctor of Humane Letters
  Leslie StahlDoctor of Humane Letters
  Thomas M. MeninoDoctor of Laws
    
1996 David BrudnoyDoctor of Humane Letters
  Jess CainDoctor of Humane Letters
  Doris Kearns GoodwinDoctor of Humane Letters
  Alma Johnson PowellDoctor of Humane Letters
  Henry W. Foster, Jr.Doctor of Humane Letters
    
1997UndergraduateShelton Jackson, M.F.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Marion Heard, M. Ed.Doctor of Laws
  Shoo Iwasaki, J.D.Doctor of Laws
  Donald Law, B.A.Doctor of Laws
  Patrick J. Purcell, M.B.A.Doctor of Laws
 GraduateEileen McNamara, M.S.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Jerrold Ross, Ph.D.Doctor of Humane Letters
    
1998GraduateDavid Hays, M.F.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Anna Faith Jones, M.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
    
1999UndergraduateAlice Hoffman, M.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Anthony QuinnDoctor of Humane Letters
  Morley SaferDoctor of Humane Letters
  Ted LeonsisDoctor of Laws
 GraduateTomie dePaola, Ph.D.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Kip Tiernan, Ph.D.Doctor of Humane Letters
    
2000UndergraduateJane FondaDoctor of Humane Letters
  Doris R. HaddockDoctor of Humane Letters
  R.E. Turner, B.A.Doctor of Laws
 GraduateFrank Newman, Ph.D.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, Ed.D.Doctor of Humane Letters
    
2001UndergraduateEdmund N. Ansin, B.S.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Charles J. Beard, Esq., J.D.Doctor of Laws
  Patricia Edenfield Mitchell, M.A.Doctor of Laws
 GraduateStanley Kunitz, M.A., L.H.D., Litt.D.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Sue Miller, M.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
    
2002UndergraduateGerald Schoenfeld, L.L.B.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Sherry Lansing, B.S.Doctor of Humane Letters
 GraduateWalter V. Robinson, B.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Edward Eskandarian, M.B.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
    
2003UndergraduateLeo J. Hindery, Jr., M.B.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
  The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr., L.L.B.Doctor of Laws
 GraduateThomas Lux ’70, B.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Christopher B. Cerf, A.B.Doctor of Humane Letters
    
2004UndergraduateTerry Semel 
  Michael E. Capuano 
  William C. Van Faasen 
 GraduateDavid Gergen 
  Gish Jen 
    
2005UndergraduateDenis Leary ’70, B.F.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Peter G. Meade ’70Doctor of Humane Letters
  Robert F. X. Sillerman, B.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
 GraduateJean Picker Firstenberg, B.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Evan Thomas, L.L.B.Doctor of Humane Letters
    
2006 John Kerry 
  Gwen Ifill 
  Thomas Payzant 
  Robert Steele 
    
2007UndergraduateRobert A Silverman, Ph.D.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Ted Cutler ’51, A.B.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Tom Freston, M.B.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
 GraduateIan Bowles, M.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
  Walter Mosley, B.A.Doctor of Humane Letters
    
2008UndergraduateAndrew SarrisDoctor of Humane Letters
  Doug A. Herzog ’81Doctor of Humane Letters
 GraduateCharles V. WillieDoctor of Humane Letters
  Rebecca Newberger GoldsteinDoctor of Humane Letters
    
2009UndergraduateMiloš Forman, MADoctor of Humane Letters
  Blair Underwood, BFADoctor of Humane Letters
 GraduateFernando M. Reimers, EdDDoctor of Humane Letters
  Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), BADoctor of Laws
    
2010UndergraduateMelvin b. Miller, JDDoctor of Humane Letters
  Bernard Cornwell, BADoctor of Humane Letters
 GraduateMark Samels, BSDoctor of Humane Letters
  Vicki S. Freimuth, PhDDoctor of Humane Letters
    
2011UndergraduateJanet Langhart CohenDoctor of Humane Letters
  Kevin Bright, BA ‘76Doctor of Humane Letters
  Marilyn Zacharis, MADoctor of Humane Letters
  Jacqueline W. Liebergott, PhDDoctor of Humane Letters
  Richard LaGravenese, MFADoctor of Humane Letters
 GraduateJanet Yuen-Mei Wu, BADoctor of Humane Letters
  Clifford Christians, PhDDoctor of Humane Letters
    
2012UndergraduateTony Kushner, MFADoctor of Humane Letters
  Bobbi Brown, BFA ‘79Doctor of Humane Letters
  Robert Pinsky, PhDDoctor of Humane Letters
  David Gregory, BADoctor of Humane Letters
  2013UndergraduateDebbie Allen, BFA    Doctor of Humane Letters
  Rita Dove, MFADoctor of Humane Letters
  Eugene Lang, MSDoctor of Humane Letters
  Max Mutchnick, BS ‘87Doctor of Humane Letters
2014  UndergraduateScott SimonDoctor of Humane Letters
  Catherine D’Amato, BADoctor of Humane Letters
  Don Lemon, BADoctor of Humane Letters
  Jay Leno, BSSp ‘73Doctor of Humane Letters
    
2015UndergraduateRobin RobertsDoctor of Humane Letters
  Cheri Blauwet, MDDoctor of Humane Letters
  Natasha TrethewayDoctor of Humane Letters
  Anne HawleyDoctor of Humane Letters
    
2016 Alice SeboldDoctor of Humane Letters
  Danielle Legros Georges ‘86Doctor of Humane Letters
  Juan GonzalezDoctor of Humane Letters
    
2017UndergraduateAnita Hill, JDDoctor of Humane Letters
  David McCullough, BADoctor of Humane Letters
  Claudia Rankine, MFADoctor of Humane Letters
  Dennis Lehane, MFADoctor of Humane Letters
    
2018UndergraduateElspeth Cypher, BA ’80, JDDoctor of Humane Letters
  Tom Perrotta, MADoctor of Humane Letters
  Deeyah KhanDoctor of Humane Letters
  Billy Collins, PhDDoctor of Humane Letters
    
2019 Eduardo Padrón, PhDDoctor of Humane Letters
  Nell Irvin Painter, PhDDoctor of Humane Letters
  Jose Antonio Vargas, BADoctor of Humane Letters
  Soledad O’Brien, BADoctor of Humane Letters
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