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Honorary Degrees

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Clarkson University Honorary Degrees are awarded to individuals who through their personal achievements and vision can inspire graduates to use their Clarkson education and experience to see the world through the lives of others and the potential to impact something larger than themselves.

An honorary degree from Clarkson recognizes individuals who have made outstanding achievements and contributions to an academic discipline or to society. Recipients of honorary degrees reflect the concepts of excellence, service, and integrity. These degrees recognize distinguished scholarship and accomplishments in the professions, sciences, arts, humanities, public service, and service to humanity.

Based on their own personal achievements and vision, honorary degree recipients are given an opportunity at commencement to share their insights into the global challenges and opportunities our graduates will face and lead into the future. By encouraging mutual appreciation of our differences and the plurality of opinions, beliefs and cultural traditions that transform and enrich our lives, honorary degree recipients can inspire our graduates to shape their own perspectives about scientific theories, social movements and ways of doing business.

All members of the Clarkson community are encouraged to submit nominations for honorary degree recipients. Candidates will be selected as honorary degree recipients for each commencement day using the procedures outlined in our Honorary Degree Policy.

The Honorary Degree Committee, made up of students, faculty and staff, solicits nominations from the same groups and alumni throughout the year. The committee assesses and approves nominations, which then go on to the Faculty Senate and finally the Board of Trustees for review and approval.

2016 Honorary Degree Recipients

Patrisse Cullors  

Patrisse Cullors is an established community leader and performance artist trained under the founder of politically expressive theater. She raises awareness to issues through a blend of activism and art. Her efforts led her to establish Dignity and Power Now, which fights for incarcerated people, their families and communities. She serves as the truth and reinvestment campaign director for The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and is a co-creator and founder of the hashtag Black Lives Matter. 

Deborah Elam  

Deborah Elam has served as president of the GE Foundation, the philanthropic arm of GE, since 2013 and as GE’s chief diversity officer since 2002. As a leader in one of Clarkson's largest corporate partners, Elam’s career and experiences in global corporate citizen and investment in the future workforce can shape our institution's understanding and journey of campus inclusion. The bottom line of any corporation is strengthened when everyone has an opportunity to contribute and succeed. (See her remarks at left.)

Alicia Garza  

Alicia Garza is the special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the nation’s leading voice for dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States, most of whom are women. Her activism reflects organizational strategies and visions that connect emerging social movements.  Her writing has been featured in publications such as The Guardian, The Nation, and The Feminist Wire. She is also a co-creator and founder of the hashtag Black Lives Matter. 

Karl Marlantes  

Karl Marlantes is the author of the New York Times Bestselling novel, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, which has won numerous prizes. He is a highly-educated and heroic Marine veteran who has parlayed his experiences into an astounding writing career. Reading his work gives us all the perspective of what it is to look through the eyes of war. He has used this hard-won wisdom to help himself and others deal with the pain of war and the factors that drive aggression in our world today. In mitigating those issues, he connects us to our value of service by offering his time and skills for the good of fellow citizens. (See his remarks at left.)

Pentti Paatero  

Pentti A. Paatero, principal at YP-Tekniikka Ky Company in Finland, retired as a researcher in the Department of Physical Sciences at the University of Helsinki in 2004. While it is atypical for non-research professionals to publish in scholarly journals, Paatero is now known world-wide for his landmark aerosol research that was first published in 1994. As a leader for change and sustainable systems across the globe, he is an example of how achievement can define our careers more than position and influence.

Opal Tometi  

Opal Tometi is the executive director at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. She is at the helm of the country’s leading black organization for immigrant rights, steering initiatives including the first Congressional briefing on black immigrants. She has presented at the United Nations and has participated with the UN’s Global Forum on Migration and Commission on the Status of Women and is also a co-creator and founder of the hashtag Black Lives Matter. (See her remarks at left.)