About the award

When presented:  May Commencement each year.

How many: A maximum of five awards is authorized (six if the Commencement speaker is included).

Process:  Award recipients are nominated by the Honorary Degrees and Special Awards Committee, recommended by the Faculty Council, and approved by the Board of Trustees.

Establishing documentHonorary Degrees Trustrees Regulation

Criteria: We seek to honor people who have rendered outstanding service to humanity in the world arena, in our nation, in the American South, or our State of North Carolina; people who have made outstanding contributions to knowledge in the world of scholarship; people whose talent and creativity in the world of the arts has enriched our lives; and people whose devotion to and support of our University merits our highest recognition.

Eligibility: Members of the Board of Governors or staff of The University of North Carolina or any of its constituent institutions are not eligible. These persons become eligible two years after termination of such status. Awards are not conferred in absentia or posthumously.

Submit a nomination

Please visit the “Submit Nominations” page at the left for instructions on how to submit your nomination. The deadline to nominate someone for a 2018 award is February 24, 2017.

Past recipients

Please note: The names that are clickable are linked to the official citation describing each winner’s accomplishments.  To see a full list of the winners back to 1799, please go to Wilson Library’s Honorary Degrees page.

2015Catarina de AlbuquerqueLL.D.International Human Rights Lawyer and Advocate
2015Peter Ware HiggsD.Sci.Prof. of Physics and Astronomy
2015Mary Elizabeth JunckLL.D.CEO of Lee Enterprises, Chair of Associated Press
2015Charles Loudermilk Sr.LL.D.Philanthropist and Community Leader
2015Charles W. Millard IIID.F.A.Art Historian and Curator
2015Wyndham RobertsonLL.D.Pioneering Journalist
2014Marjorie Bryan BuckleyLL.D.

Philanthropist, Professor, co-founder of Carolina Center for Public Service

2014Atul Atmaram GawandeD.Sci.Surgeon, Writer, Public Health Researcher
2014Biddy MartinLL.D.President of Amherst College, Author, Professor
2014Armistead Jones Maupin Jr.Litt.D. Author of “Tales of the City”
2014Beverly Eaves PerdueLL.D.Former Governor of North Carolina
2014Anne Firor ScottL.H.DProfessor, Author, Pioneering Historian of American Women
2013Steve CaseLL.D.Businessman, philanthropist, founder of America Online
2013Bernard FlatowLL.D.Businessman (public relations), rare book collector, supporter of U.S.-Latin American exchanges
2013Joel FleishmanLL.D.Professor; state government administrator instrumental in establishment of Governor’s School and North Carolina School of the Arts; philanthropist
2013Freeman HrabowskiLL.D.President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County
2013Mary Pope OsborneLitt.D.Author of “Magic Tree House” children’s book series
2012Michael Rubens BloombergLL.D.Mayor of New York
2012David S. FerrieroLL.D.Archivist of the United States
2012Thomas W. LambethLitt.D.Retired Executive Director, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation
2012Branford MarsalisD. Mus.World-renowned saxophonist
2012Katharine Lee ReidD.F.A.Retired Director, Cleveland Museum of Art
2011Timothy B. BurnettLL.D.Service to Carolina; business; philanthropy
2011Mary Sue ColemanLL.D.President, University of Michigan
2011Ernest J. GainesLitt.D.Novelist
2011John GrishamLitt.D.Novelist
2011Dwight T. PitcaithleyLL.D.Public Historian; Retired Chief Historian, National Park Service
2011Edward O. WilsonD.Sci.Founder of ethnobiology and evolutionary psychology
2010Paul RizzoLL.D.Chair emeritus, Franklin Street Partners
2010Eugene RobertsLL.D.Former national editor, New York Times; Executive editor, Philadelphia Inquirer
2010Fred RobinsonL.H.D.Douglas Tracy Smith Prof. of English Emeritus, Yale University
2010Patricia Timmons-GoodsonLL.D.Associate justice, NC Supreme Court
2009William J. Armfield IVLL.D.Investment executive & Philanthropist
2009Eli N. EvansLL.D.Writer on Jews in the south; Nonprofit leader
2009Charles SandersD.Sci.Physician & Medical executive
2009Helen ScheirbeckLL.D.Native American activist & Educational leader
2009Lee Marshall SmithLitt.D.Prolific southern author
2009Desmond M. TutuD.D.Nobel Peace Prize winner;  South African anti-apartheid campaigner
2008Peter Courtland AgreD.Sci.Medical researcher; Nobel Prize winner
2008Philip Palmer Green IIID.Sci.Human genome researcher
2008Heather Munroe-BlumD.Sci.University administrator; Psychiatric epidemiologist
2008Anthony Eden RandLL.D.Public service; Champion of the University
2008Jessye NormanD.Mus.Performing artist, opera & concert
2007Madeline Korbel AlbrightLL.D.U.S. Secretary of State
2007H. Jack GeigerD.Sci.Physician & Humanitarian
2007William Ivey LongD.F.A.Costume designer
2007Richard Wilson RileyLL.D.U.S. Cabinet Secretary; Governor, South Carolina
2007Dean Edwards SmithLL.D.Coach & Humanitarian
2006Joyce Conseen DuganLL.D. Educator & Cherokee leader
2006Thomas Stephen Kenan IIILL.D.Philanthropist
2006Robert Ray MorganLitt.D.Author & Poet
2006John Shelby SpongL.H.D.Author & Clergyman
2005 Nannerl Overholser KeohaneLL.D. Scholar; President, Duke University; Feminist leader
2005Anand PanyarachunLL.D.Thai Prime Minister; Diplomat; World leader
2005Peter John GomesD.D.Preacher; Author; Minister, The Memorial Church, Harvard
2005Frank Borden Hanes, Sr.L.H.D.Philanthropist; Author; Business leader
2004William Albert Graham, Jr.L.H.D.Scholar; Dean, Harvard Divinity School
2004Julius Levonne ChambersLL.D.Attorney; Civil rights pioneer
2004Maurice John KouryLL.D.Businessman & Philanthropist
2004William Octavius McCoyLL.D.Businessman & Interim chancellor UNC-CH
2004William Forrest WinterLL.D.Former governor, Mississippi; statesman
2003Drew Saunders Days IIILL.D.U.S. Solicitor General; Professor, Yale Law
2003Clemmie Dixon Spangler, Jr.LL.D.President, University of North Carolina
2003Reynolds PriceLitt.D.Author
2003William Henry Cosby, Jr.LL.D.Actor & Entertainer
2002Julian Hart Robertson, Jr.LL.D.Financier & Philanthropist
2002Verne Edward Chaney, Jr.D.Sci.Physician & Humanitarian
2002John Reid EdwardsLL.D.US Senator
2001Ricardo Lagos EscobarLL.D. President, Chile
2001Gladys Hall CoatesLL.D.Public service
2001Dennis Barry GillingsD.Sci.Scholar; Founder, Quintiles
2001William Edward “Billy” TaylorD.F.A.Musician
2001Thomas Grey WickerLL.D.Journalist
2001David SatcherD.Sci.Physician; US Surgeon General
2000Stuart Eliot EizenstatLL.D.Diplomat
2000Joseph Leo BlotnerLitt.D.Literary historian
2000Walter Horace CarterLL.D.Newspaper editor & owner
2000Charles JusticeLL.D.Athlete
2000Daniel Alexander OkunD.Sci.Scholar & Educator
1999William Warren BradleyLL.D.Public service
1999Marc BasnightLL.D.North Carolina Senate; Public service
1999Damon Jerome KeithLL.D.U.S. District Court Judge
1999Nina Woo MathesonD.Sci.Librarian
1998Susan Pardee BakerD.SciPublic health
1998Richard Hampton JenretteLL.D.Business; historic preservation; philanthropy
1998Betty Ray McCainLL.D.Public service
1998Elizabeth SpencerLitt.D.Author
1998Leroy Tashreau WalkerLL.D.Educator
1997Erskine Boyce BowlesLL.D.White House Chief of Staff; Investment banker
1997Rita DoveLitt.D.Poet & Professor
1997Eugene Dominick GenoveseLitt.D.Historian & Professor
1997Alice Mitchell RivlinLL.D.Economist; Public service
1997William Doyle RuckelshausLL.D.Environmentalist; Public service; Business
1997Arthel Lane “Doc” WatsonLitt.D.Folk singer
1996William Franklin GrahamD.D.Evangelist
1996Seamus Justin HeaneyLitt.D.Poet
1996Rudolph Arthur MarcusD.Sci.Chemist; Nobel prize
1995Kenneth Merle BrinkhousD.Sci.Pathologist
1995Johnetta Betsch ColeLL.D.President, SpelmanCollege
1995Bess Lomax HawesLitt.D.Folklorist
1995Hugh Leon McColl, Jr.LL.D.Banker
1995Louis Decimus Rubin, Jr.Litt.D.Professor & Publisher
1995Anna Deavere SmithLitt.D.Playwright; Performance artist; Professor
1994Daniel Terry Blue Jr.LL.D.Public service
1994Kenneth Lauren BurnsLitt.D.Documentary filmmaker
1994Francis Sellers CollinsD.Sci.Geneticist
1994Walter Joseph HarrelsonLitt.D.Biblical scholar
1994Jane Shelby RichardsonD.Sci.Protein scientist
1994Joseph Curtis SloaneLitt.D.Art historian
1993William Jefferson ClintonLL.D.US President
1993Katherine DunhamD.F.A.Dancer; Cultural anthropologist
1993Eugen MerzbacherD.Sci.Physicist
1993Carl Thomas RowanLitt.D.Journalist
1993Nelson Ferebee TaylorLL.D.UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor; Business
1993Edwin Milton Yoder Jr.Litt.D.Journalist
1992David McClure BrinkleyLitt.D.Television journalist
1992Shelby Dade FooteLitt.D.Novelist; Civil War historian
1992Sherman Emery LeeLitt.D.Oriental art scholar; Museum director
1992Anne Ellen QueenLL.D.Educator
1992Thomas Franklin WilliamsD.Sci.Gerontologist
1991Federico Guillermo GilLitt.D.Latin American scholar
1991Archie GreenLitt.D.American folklore scholar
1991Charles Bishop KuraltLitt.D.Television journalist
1990John Marsden Ehle Jr.Litt.D. Novelist
1990Gertrude Belle ElionD.Sci.Biochemist; Nobel Prize 1988
1990Allen Walker ReadLitt.D.Linguist & lexicographer
1989Minnie Miller BrownD.Sci.Pioneer in attacking rural poverty
1989Robert Francis FurchgottD.Sci.Pharmacological researcher
1989Robert VenturiD.Sci.Architect
1988James Evans DavisD.Sci.President, American Medical Assn.
1988Marian Wright EdelmanLL.D.President, Children’s Defense Fund
1988William Clyde FridayLL.D.President, University of North Carolina
1988James Bryan McMillanLL.D.US District Court Judge
1987William Brantley AycockLL.D.Educator
1987William Wallace FinlatorD.D.Minister active in civil rights
1987Margaret Taylor HarperLL.D.Journalist; public service
1987William Neill Hubbard Jr.D.Sci.Medical statesman; President, Upjohn; Dean
1987Samuel Talmadge RaganD.Litt.Journalist
1986James Grubbs MartinLL.D.Public service
1986Harriet L. RheingoldD.Sci.Psychology
1986Ivan E. SutherlandD.Sci.Computer graphics pioneer
1986John Kenneth TerresD.Litt.Nature editor & Author
1985Mildred CohnD.Sci.Biochemist; Inst. for Cancer Research
1985Elizabeth Hanford DoleLL.D.U.S. Secretary of Transportation
1985Blyden JacksonD.Litt.Prof. of English emeritus, UNC
1985Emma Neal McQueen MorrisonLL.D.Chair emeritus, Roanoke Island Historical Ass’n.
1985James Dickson Phillips, Jr.LL.D.Judge, U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
1984George Richard HerbertLL.D.President, Research Triangle Institute
1984James Earl JonesLitt.D.Stage, screen, & TV actor
1984Frank Hawkins KenanLL.D.UNC benefactor
1983Henry Parker Brandis, Jr.LL.D.Kenan Prof. of Law; Dean, Law School
1983Elizabeth Scott CarringtonLL.D.Benefactor, UNC School of Nursing
1983Aloyisis Leon Higginbotham, Jr.LL.D.Judge, US Court of Appeals 3rd Circuit
1983Joseph Carlyle SittersonLL.D.Chancellor emeritus; Kenan Prof. of History
1983Frank Henry WestheimerD.SciChemist; Harvard professor
1982William Patterson CummingD.Litt.Prof. of English emeritus, Davidson College
1982George Herbert HitchingsD.Sci.Burroughs-Wellcome researcher & Administrator
1982Myles HortonLL.D.Founder, Highlander Folk School
1981James Edward CheekLL.D.President, Howard Univ.
1981Henry Armfield FoscueLL.D.Businessman & Civic leader
1981Lawrence H. FountainLL.D.U.S. Congressman
1981Sarah RatnerD.Sci.Biochemist
1980Peter BommaritoLL.D.Int’l Pres. United Rubber etc. Workers, AFL-CIO
1980David Beers QuinnLL.D.Prof. Modern History emeritus, Univ.of Liverpool
1980Donald Ray SeawellLitt.D.Pres. & Chrm. of Board, The Denver Post
1980Cecil Grady TaylorLL.D.Chancellor emeritus, Louisiana State Univ.
1979Robert Martin ColesD.Sci.Harvard research psychiatrist
1979John Hope FranklinLL.D.Professor; historian; author
1979Katharine JocherLL.D.Sociologist & Administrator
1979Robert Mayer LumianskyLL.D.Scholar, English literature
1979Thelma Gwinn ThurstoneD.Sci.Co-establisher, UNC Psychometric Lab
1979Donald Sharp FredericksonD.Sci.Director, NIH
1979L. Richardson PreyerLL.D.U.S. Congressman
1979Frederick Chapman RobbinsD.Sci.Sr. Research Scholar, Nat. Acad. of Science
1979Lewis ThomasD.Sci.President & CEO, Sloan-Kettering Institute
1978James Baxter Hunt, Jr.LL.D.Governor of NC
1978Oscar Knefler RiceLL.D.Kenan Prof. of Chemistry
1978Rafael Montinola SalasLL.D.Asst. Secretary General, United Nations
1978Berta Vogel ScharrerD.Sci.Prof. of Anatomy, Albert Einstein Med. Coll.