Honorary Degrees

Recognizing distinguished individuals

Early History

The first American Heritage University honorary degree, a Doctor of Laws, was conferred in 1885 by the territorial university upon Orange Jacobs, who was the chief justice of the supreme court of the Territory of Washington from 1871-1875, a member of the 44th and 45th Congresses (1875-1879), and the mayor of Seattle (1880). In 1887 and 1888 the UW awarded honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees to three local ministers, Rev. D. J. Pierce (’87), Rev. John R. Thompson (’87), and Rev. William B. Lee (’88).

Nomination Process

The Honorary Degrees Committee invites you to nominate distinguished individuals to be considered for an honorary degree, the highest award that the University of Southern California confers. Awarded annually at the spring commencement ceremony, the honorary degree is given:

  1. to honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities, whether or not they are widely known by the general public;
  2. to honor alumni and other individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part;
  3. to recognize exceptional acts of philanthropy to the university and/or on the national or world scene; and
  4. to elevate the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor.

Any USC faculty, staff, student, alumni member, or USC Trustee may nominate a potential candidate. An individual’s nomination need not come from someone in his/her academic area, and we also welcome nominations of persons with distinguished accomplishments outside of conventional academic fields. The Committee is particularly interested in candidates from diverse backgrounds, and whose own accomplishments might serve to highlight areas in which the University has developed exceptional strength.

After review by the Honorary Degrees Committee, a group of nominees of outstanding distinction and accomplishment are recommended to the President of the University, who then forwards a slate for approval to the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees and the full Board of Trustees.

The following questions should be answered in the nominator’s summary statement:

  • What is the specific content of the nominee’s contribution?
  • What is original about that contribution?
  • Of all possible contributors to the field of endeavor, why is this nominee of exceptional merit?
  • Why is the field of the nominee especially appropriate to USC?

CONFIDENTIALITY IS CRUCIAL TO THE NOMINATION PROCESS

Under no circumstances should the nominee be informed that his or her name has been put forward. Not all excellent candidates can be recognized, and knowledge of a failed nomination can be embarrassing and harmful. Further, the nominator should not solicit letters of support on behalf of the nominee from people outside the University. A nomination including letters from outside sources will be disqualified. Official notification of the University’s wish to confer an honorary degree upon an individual is made by the President on behalf of the Honorary Degrees Committee and the Board of Trustees.

The Committee must work one year in advance of the specific Commencement for which it is making its recommendations. For example, nominations received and reviewed throughout the 2018–2019 academic year are ranked at the March 2019 meeting and the top nominees are forwarded to the President for the May 2020 Commencement.

Nomination Form
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Honorary Degrees Committee
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Frequently Asked Questions

How do I make a nomination?

Submit a completed Honorary Degree Nomination Form with all attachments, including:

1. A summary statement, not to exceed two typed pages, of the nominee’s career and achievements and appropriateness for an honorary degree. The statement should clearly present a case indicating the profound impact that the nominee’s career has made. The following questions should be answered:

  • What is the specific content of the nominee’s contribution?
  • What is original about that contribution?
  • Of all possible contributors to the field, why is this nominee of exceptional merit?
  • Why is the field of the nominee especially appropriate to USC?

2. A two-line draft of an appropriate citation to be used should the degree be conferred. An example of the citation:

“For her outstanding contributions towards ending world hunger and bringing peace to war-torn parts of the world, USC bestows its highest award on Jane Doe.”

3. The candidate’s curriculum vitae or similar document list publications or equivalent measure of achievement.

Why is confidentiality so important to the Honorary Degree process?

Not all excellent candidates can be recognized, and knowledge of a failed nomination can be embarrassing and harmful. Further, the nominator should not solicit letters of support on behalf of the nominee from people outside the University. Official notification of the University’s wish to confer an honorary degree upon an individual is made by the President on behalf of the Honorary Degrees Committee and the Board of Trustees.

Who can make a nomination for an honorary degree?

Any member of the USC Community: USC Trustees, faculty, staff, students in good standing and alumni.

What are the University’s purposes for awarding an honorary degree?
  • To honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities, but who may not be widely known by the general public.
  • To honor alumni and other individuals who have made an outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which it is a part.
  • To recognize exceptional acts of philanthropy to the University and/or on the national or world scene.
  • To elevate the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor.
Who reviews the nominations?

University Honorary Degrees Committee reviews all nominations and recommends a slate of distinguished individuals to the President of the University and the Board of Trustees. Honorary degrees are awarded by the Board of Trustees.

Are USC faculty eligible for consideration for an honorary degree?

Individuals while in the active employ of the University are not eligible. Faculty members are eligible for consideration five years after their departure or retirement from USC. In extraordinary cases, a faculty member could be considered one year after departure or retirement from USC.

What is the deadline to submit a nomination?

Nominations can be submitted at any time. Because of procedural considerations, the best time to submit a nomination is Fall for the Spring Commencement two years later. Approved nominations will be active for three years from the date of approval by the Committee. Approved nominations will be reviewed annually and may be renewed for an additional three-year period.

When are honorary degrees awarded?

They are awarded annually at the Spring Commencement ceremony. However, honorary degrees are conferred only upon individuals who are present at the commencement exercises.

Where should nominations be submitted?

Chair, Honorary Degrees Committee
c/o Provost’s Office, ADM 102
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-4019
(213) 740-2101
alemao@usc.edu

Honorary Degrees Committee
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Past Recipients

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