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Knox College Honorary Degrees


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Galesburg, IL 61401



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Knox College awarded its first honorary doctorate to Abraham Lincoln in 1860; previously it awarded honorary master's degrees. Early records do not specify that every commencement speaker received an honorary degree; until the late 1920s, commencement addresses were often given by students from the graduating class. In some years, "Master's Orations" were given by alumni of the College.

Commencement speakers in italics.


  • Brooke M. Wiseman, chief executive officer of Blessings in a Backpack
  • Michelle Kuo, scholar advocate
  • Joseph B. Glossberg, wealth advisor and investment counselor with CI Gofen and Glossberg Private Wealth of Chicago

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  • Walter Mosley, critically acclaimed author
  • Dr. Joy Buolamwini, computer scientist and poet of code, founder of Algorithmic Justice League
  • Barbara Stewart, CEO of AmeriCorps
  • Sara Jane Ahmed '12, financial and environmental strategist
  • David A. Greene, president of Colby College
  • Haki R. Madhubuti, best-selling author, poet, publisher, editor, and educator

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  • Ngozi O. Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health
  • Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, senior group leader at Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus and a founding member of the Neuronal Cell Biology Program at Janelia
  • Tom Rivett-Carnac, a founding partner of Global Optimism and an architect of the United Nations Paris Agreement on Climate Change

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  • Brian Wallach and Sandra Abrevaya, the founders of I AM ALS, a patient-led, patient-centric movement created to find a cure for ALS after Brian was diagnosed with the disease. 

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  • Richard J. Durbin, United States Senator from the State of Illinois
  • Chad Pregracke, Founder of Living Lands & Waters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cleaning up and preserving our nation's rivers
  • Brenda J. Child, Author and Historian of American Indian History

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  • William Whitaker, Emmy Award-winning journalist and "60 Minutes" correspondent
  • Matt Berg '00, co-founder and chief executive officer of the social enterprise technology company Ona
  • June Cross, Emmy Award-winning producer and writer and professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism

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  • Natasha Trethewey, Pulitzer Prize winner in Poetry and Nineteenth Poet Laureate of the United States
  • Alan Harn, Assistant Curator of Anthropology at the Dickson Mounds Museum
  • Ramsey Lewis, Grammy-Award winning Jazz musician

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*awarded at 2013 Homecoming Convocation

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  • Tina Tchen, Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and the Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls
  • Kwame Dawes, acclaimed author and artist as well as respected actor, playwright, and broadcaster
  • Jim Owens, chairman and chief executive officer of Caterpillar Inc., chairman of the Business Council, and member of the Business Roundtable and the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board

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  • Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois
  • Garry Wills, renowned cultural historian and author of more than three-dozen books
  • Bill Geer, noted geneticist who taught biology at Knox College from 1963 until his retirement in 2000

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  • Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State
  • Barry Bearak '71, Knox graduate and New York Times foreign correspondent and winner of the Pulitzer Prize
  • Alan I Leshner, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

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  • William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd President of the United States, founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative
  • Janet McKinley, Chair of Oxfam America
  • Douglas Wilson, Lincoln scholar and Professor Emeritus of English at Knox College

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  • Stephen Colbert, political satirist and star of The Colbert Report
  • Shirley Barnes, former U.S. ambassador to Madagascar and activist on human trafficking
  • Diane B. Smatlak Rosenberg '63, Knox graduate and outgoing chair of the Knox College Board of Trustees
  • Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia

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  • Barack Obama, U.S. Senator from Illinois
  • Elizabeth Hayford, president of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest

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  • Lawrence Brilliant, physician, human rights activist and technology pioneer
  • John W. Dower, scholar of Japanese history

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  • Admiral William J. Crowe Jr., former chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • JoAnn M. Burkholder, botanist at North Carolina State University
  • Martha C. Nussbaum, philosopher and legal scholar at the University of Chicago

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  • Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation and Chair of Human Rights Watch
  • Basilio Losada Castro, professor of literature at the University of Barcelona
  • Clint Grant, retired chief photographer at the Dallas Morning News
  • Anna Sophia Johnson, community environmental activist
  • Jane Johnson, community environmental activist

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  • Nancy S. Dye, president of Oberlin College
  • Dwight R. Crandell '44, Knox graduate and geologist who predicted the Mount St. Helens eruption
  • Terry Evans, photographer and naturalist
  • Maury Klein '60, Knox graduate and scholar of economic history

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  • Brian Lamb, founder of C-SPAN
  • Andrew J. McKenna, Jr., Illinois business and political leader and philanthropist
  • Cullom Davis, Lincoln scholar
  • Victoria Post Ranney, developer and conservationist in Illinois

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More Honorary Degrees:1900-1999 | 1849-1899

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Printed on Sunday, April 21, 2024