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Honorary Degree and Commencement Speaker Selection Guidelines


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Criteria for Honorary Degree and Commencement Speakers

Guidelines for Honorary Degree Awards

Awards of honorary degrees by Knox College are voted by the Board of Trustees upon the recommendation of the Subcommittee on Honorary Degrees of the Board. Suggestions and the names of candidates can be sent to the College or to any Trustee but should be referred to a member of the Trustee Subcommittee on Honorary Degrees, preferably to the Chairman.

Candidates for honorary degrees should have achieved distinction, preferably in the fields of science, arts, or education. Scholarly attainments or distinction in research are prime reasons for honorary degrees. Other fields of achievement include government and public service, the professions, business, the ministry, journalism, etc. Diversity should be taken into account in considering candidates.

Knox graduates, former students, and those who have ties or connections with Knox should be given special consideration in deciding to whom honorary degrees are to be awarded. However, care must be exercised to avoid preference to members of the Board of Trustees or those associated with the administration of the College. On the other hand, Knox faculty members who have distinguished themselves as teachers, scholars, in research or otherwise, are especially deserving of consideration. Senior members of the faculty are likely to be better candidates for honorary degrees than those who have not been at Knox long or whose experience and teaching career have not been extensive. If the practice of recent years is to be followed, honorary degrees to trustees, faculty members, or others directly associated with Knox should be awarded sparingly, and only to those whose connection with Knox has been long and distinguished.

Knox alumni and former students are deserving of recognition in the award of honorary degrees but they should not predominate and there should be a balance at any time when more than one honorary degree is awarded, as between those in the "Knox family" and others.

Above all else, the Subcommittee and the Board must stand up against improper pressures that sometimes are applied for the award of honorary degrees which are not deserved nor appropriate. One way of handling such pressures is to indicate that the decision rests with the Subcommittee on Honorary Degrees of the Board. The Subcommittee itself in executive session can and should decide the best way to handle nominations to which favorable consideration is not given in such circumstances.

Ordinarily, honorary degrees are awarded at Commencement in June. The number of such awards is usually three, but does not necessarily have to be that number. It has been the custom in recent years to award an honorary degree to the individual who gives the commencement speech and who is a person of distinction and renown. If it is expected that an honorary degree should be awarded to the commencement speaker, no commitment to that effect should be made until the Subcommittee on Honorary Degrees has considered the nomination and recommended it. Oftentimes, an honorary degree is awarded to someone distinguished in the field of education at the Honors Convocation, usually held at the College in the spring.

It is desirable that suggestions, nominations and the names of possible candidates for the award of honorary degrees at Commencement in June, be submitted to the Subcommittee before the preceding fall meeting of the Board of Trustees held at Homecoming time the latter part of October. This gives the Subcommittee on Honorary Degrees sufficient time to get complete information on the nominees and to make a careful and unhurried decision by the time of the meeting of the Board of Trustees held in February the following year.

The honorary degrees awarded by Knox College include the following:

  • LL.D. Doctor of Laws
  • Litt.D. Doctor of Literature
  • L.H.D. Doctor of Humane Letters
  • D.F.A. Doctor of Fine Arts
  • D.D. Doctor of Divinity
  • Sc.D. Doctor of Science

It is desirable to avoid having all honorary degree awards be those of Doctor of Laws; one of the other degrees might be included in any group to be awarded honorary degrees. Needless to say, the type of degree should be in accord with the achievements and attainments of the nominees.

Although not absolutely necessary, it is desirable that at least one member of the Honorary Degree Subcommittee either knows or meets and forms an opinion of any nominee for an honorary degree, before any recommendation is made on such nominee by the Subcommittee to the Board. This policy can be varied, of course, to accept the personal opinion and judgment by a Trustee or the President of the College about any candidate. Following general practice of all educational institutions, honorary degrees are not awarded "in absentia".

Willard B. Dean, Chairman
Honorary Degree Committee
October 15, 1959 (revised August 10, 2005)

Guidelines for Selecting the Commencement Speaker


  • February: The officers for the senior class of the following year meet with the Honorary Degrees Committee at the February meeting of the Board of Trustees. Therefore, the junior class must elect these officers early in the winter term. The Dean of Students is responsible for seeing this election is held.
  • May: (before deadline for material for Trustee's agenda): The class officers make recommendations to the President of persons whom they would like to have asked to be speaker and of general interests they would like to have pursued if the particular individuals named are unobtainable for any reason.
  • June: The officers usually discuss their suggestions with the Honorary Degrees Committee. The President proceeds, on the advice of the Honorary Degrees Committee, to make the arrangements for the speaker.
  • October: When a speaker has been obtained the Committee recommends that person to the Board of Trustees for award of an honorary degree.


The speaker should be:

  • Someone of intellectual stature
  • Someone to whom Knox is pleased to offer an honorary degree

The class officers should ask their classmates for suggestions of names and for areas of interest within which names might be sought. The class officers should feel free to solicit additional suggestions from faculty and anyone else they think might help.

The choice of speaker is a serous responsibility. It should reflect the College's purpose of providing young men and women with a liberal arts education that will help them become "competent, cultivated, and concerned individuals" freed from "the limitations of the unexamined life." (1989-90 College Catalog.) Thus, the choice of a speaker is not a popularity contest. Name recognition due merely to visibility in the media is a poor basis for choice. The class officers are responsible, with the help of faculty or additional classmates as they choose, for a considered evaluation of the possibilities.

The Committee provides the class officers information from its file of potential honorary degree recipients on those individuals who might be good speakers. The officers may wish to review the list of past speakers.

The class officers should provide a list of at least three names and preferably several more. They may wish to indicate an order of preference among these names. Since sometimes none of the named individuals are available, the class officers should also indicate a general area of interest which the President might pursue for additional suggestions. Because of the necessity of making arrangements well in advance the President has to be free to move ahead during the summer and early autumn.

Responsibility for working with the class officers rests with the Dean of the College and the Dean of Students.

Approved by Honorary Degrees Committee, June 1990

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Printed on Saturday, June 22, 2024