Board OKs Kennedy for degree

The Board of Trustees approved Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., as eligible to receive an honorary degree during their meeting Friday, a possible indication that the 76-year-old legislator could play a role in the spring Commencement ceremonies.

University spokeswoman Tracy Schario said the nomination does not guarantee that Kennedy will receive a degree, noting that the honorary degree list only indicates that a person is eligible. Honorary degree recipients, which are chosen from the Board of Trustees list, typically give short speeches during Commencement preceding the primary speaker.

In the past, honorary degree nominees also formed the list of initial candidates to give the keynote Commencement speech, but a new committee formed this year relied on outside submissions instead.

In regard to the keynote speaker, Schario said the special advisory committee on Commencement speakers has already made a recommendation to University President Steven Knapp and that there is an “invitation out,” though no one is confirmed.

Other people approved for honorary degrees in the past but not yet awarded include Mel Brooks, Oprah Winfrey, Bill and Melinda Gates and Lance Armstrong – as well as 32 others. Anyone affiliated with the University can nominate an honorary degree recipient but ultimately the choices must be approved by Knapp and the Board.

Last year the Board approved Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, an alumnus who was later announced to be the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences graduation speaker and an honorary degree recipient.

Kennedy has served in the Senate for more than 46 years and has been recognized as a pioneer in national health care and the advancement of education.

“Many GW faculty members involved in public policy and health policy have had the privilege of working with Sen. Kennedy,” wrote Josef Reum, interim dean of the School of Public Health and Health Services, in the nomination form.

Kennedy would not be the first from his family to be honored by the University. His brother, former President John F. Kennedy, received an honorary doctorate of law from GW and former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, an alumna, has a residence hall named in her honor.

“Throughout his long and distinguished career, Senator Kennedy has led nearly every major effort to extend health care to all Americans, and with specific and special attention to people who are poor and lack access to affordable health care,” Reum wrote in his nomination.

The Board also approved the nomination of the former director of the Independent Colleges Office, Jeanne L. Narum. The Independent Colleges Office is a nonprofit organization that assists higher education institutions in the allocation of federal funds and support.

“She has come to campus numerous times to assess the kinds of things we need to support the campus,” said trustee Mark Hughes, chairman of the Committee on Academic Affairs.

Narum is also well-known for her service at Project Kaleidoscope, a national alliance of universities dedicated to advancing undergraduate science, mathematics and engineering.

Narum was nominated by chemistry department chair and professor Michael King.

King wrote, “[Narum] has transformed the conversations about learning and teaching and the facilities that make that learning environment possible.”

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