The University will recognize four members of the GW community with honorary degrees at next week’s Commencement ceremony, alongside keynote speaker and alumnus Mark Warner, governor of Virginia.
Former Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan, former IRS Commissioner Sheldon Cohen, journalist Madeline Jacobs and jazz musician Billy Taylor will receive their honorary doctorate degrees at the May 18 University-wide graduation on the Ellipse.
All recipients are GW alumni, with the exception of Taylor. He has been active at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, GW’s partner in providing funding for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts – a D.C. public arts high school.
University Marshal Jill Kasle said Warner “set the tone” to honor alumni with degrees, after the University asked him in March 2002 to keynote this year’s Commencement. She said recognizing alumni with honorary degrees helps to establish a feeling of “community” in light of September 11.
“We always try to have at least one alumnus receive a degree at
Commencement,” Kasle said.
Candidates must be approved by the Board of Trustees and are then invited to the graduation ceremony by University President Steven Joel Trachtenberg.
Kasle said honorary degree recipients must have made “significant and substantial achievements in the public and private sectors.” They must have contributed to and enhanced the “public good,” Kasle said.
She added that a candidate’s connections to GW, though not mandatory, are also considered.
Graduating seniors who will be receiving earned degrees comparable to those of the recipients will present the honorary degrees.
Kasle said faculty members or a representative from the Board of Trustees usually introduce the honorary degree winners, but University President Steven Joel Trachtenberg changed the procedure this year to make it more student-oriented.
Doctor of Public Service
Although not initially on the Missouri senatorial ticket, Jean Carnahan became the first female senator of Missouri in 2000. Her husband, former Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, was the original candidate for the senate seat; however, he was killed in a plane crash along with their son and a campaign adviser weeks before the election.
With his name already printed on the ballots, Mel Carnahan won the election in a posthumous victory, beating Republican candidate John Ashcroft.
The state’s governor at the time proposed to appoint Jean Carnahan to fill the position because of her experience working in more than 17 of her husband’s successful political campaigns. She accepted the slot to serve until 2002.
As a senator, Jean Carnahan served on the committees on commerce, armed service and aging, among others.
Jean Carnahan was born in Washington and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from GW in 1955.
Sheldon S. Cohen
Doctor of Laws
Sheldon S. Cohen became the youngest person to serve as the commissioner for the Internal Revenue Service when he accepted the appointment from Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. He was also the general counsel to the Democratic National Committee, assisting the United Nations to help establish tax systems for developing countries.
Cohen is currently senior counsel for the Morgan, Lewis and Bockius law firm in D.C.
Born in Washington, Cohen attended GW and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and special honors in 1950. He continued his education at the GW Law School, where he received his Juris Doctor degree with highest honors in 1952.
Cohen remained active in the GW community as an alumnus. For more than 20 years, he was an adjunct faculty member at the law school and became a member of the Board of Trustees in 1980. From 2000-2001, he served as the Board’s chairman and in 2002 was elected Trustee Emeritus.
Doctor of Science, honoris causa
On the staff of the magazine Chemical and Engineering News, Jacobs advocates gender equality in the sciences. She studied chemistry at GW and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree and special honors in 1968.
She became the Smithsonian Institute’s chief science writer in 1979. She launched the Smithsonian News Service and oversaw publication of three periodicals.
But in 1995 she returned to Chemical and Engineering News to oversee the expansion of the magazine’s editorial department. She then helped to establish an online version of the publication.
Some of her notable awards include the Smithsonian Institution Secretary’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service and the American Chemical Society Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences.
Doctor of Music
Billy Taylor began his professional jazz career in a New York City club in the 1940s, playing alongside his idol, saxophonist Ben Cole.
Taylor recorded with his band, the Billy Taylor Trio, in addition to collaborating with other great musicians, including John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Holiday and Charlie Parker. Taylor has also performed solo throughout the Northeast.
He has written 350 songs, published more than a dozen jazz books and has served as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ artistic adviser for jazz for nearly 10 years.
As an arts correspondent during the 1980s on CBS’s “Sunday Morning,” he received an Emmy Award for his profile on music producer Quincy Jones. Taylor also hosted a 26-part series on National Public Radio called “Billy Taylor’s Jazz at the Kennedy Center.”
Taylor currently tours in his free time and conducts lectures, masters classes and workshops in classrooms across the United States.