Honorary degrees

Delve into the esteemed tradition of SMU’s honorary degrees, recognizing exceptional contributions to society and fostering inspiration for future generations.

Honorary degrees

An honorary degree is essentially a symbolic award not earned through academic pursuits. While recipients often receive a doctoral degree, bachelor’s and master’s degrees are also options. Those honored typically refrain from using the title Doctor, opting instead to denote their status with terms like honoris causa, honorary or h.c. following the degree on official documents.

Throughout its history, the University has conferred over 280 honorary degrees over 100 plus years. Recipients include former presidents of the University, prominent figures associated with the campus, individuals important to Dallas and SMU, former U.S. presidents, other government officials, distinguished alumni from various fields and world leaders.

Conferring an honorary degree

The Honorary Degrees Committee recommends nominees to the Faculty Senate based on nominations from students, faculty, administration, trustees and alumni. All nominations are considered if accompanied by sufficient supporting data. The identities of nominators are typically kept confidential from committee members.

The committee also actively seeks out individuals worthy of recognition from the University community. Their nominations are guided by the Statement of Policy and require affirmative votes from at least six committee members before being submitted to the senate for approval.

Recent recipients

Year Name Title Degree
2024 Opal Lee Grandmother of Juneteenth
Doctor of Humane Letters
2022 Anita N. Martinez Dallas Leader and Founder of the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico Doctor of Humane Letters
2020 Moniek “Max” Glauben Holocaust Survivor and Co-Founder of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum Doctor of Humane Letters
2019 Virginia Savage McAlester Dallas Historic Preservationist Doctor of Arts
2019 Hamdi Ulukaya Founder, Chair and CEO of Chobani Doctor of Humane Letters
2018 Barry C. Barish Nobel Laureate and Linde Professor Emeritus of Physics at the California Institute of Technology Doctor of Science
2017 Francis S. Collins Pioneering Geneticist and Director of the National Institutes of Health Doctor of Science
2017 Francis Halzen Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Director of the Institute for Particle Physics Research
Doctor of Science
Nancy A. Nasher
Attorney, Business Leader and Philanthropist Doctor of Arts
2017 E.P. Sanders ’62 New Testament Scholar Doctor of Humane Letters
Groesbeck Parham Leader in Cancer Prevention in Developing Nations Doctor of Science
Helen Lakelly Hunt ’71, ’76, ’79 American Activist, Philanthropist and Writer Doctor of Humane Letters
2015 Irene Hirano Inouye President, U.S.-Japan Council Doctor of Humane Letters
2015 Meave Leakey Paleoanthropologist Doctor of Humane Letters
2014 Richard P. Heitzenrater Methodist Historian, Leading Authority on Early Methodism Doctor of Humane Letters
2014 Joseph W. McKnight Larry and Jane Harlan Senior Research Fellow and SMU Professor of Law Doctor of Laws
2014 Isabel Wilkerson Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Doctor of Humane Letters