Meryl Streep, Eric Cantor up for honorary degrees

An award-winning actress, the House majority leader, an NBA star and HIV/AIDS activist and the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts are among the candidates for honorary degrees this spring, the Board of Trustees decided Friday.

University President Steven Knapp will select recipients of ceremonial degrees during this spring’s Commencement from a candidate pool that includes Meryl Streep, Magic Johnson, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Carmen Ortiz.

Recipients must meet two out of three criteria: a connection to GW, a commitment to public service and distinguished professional, intellectual, academic or creative success.

Last fall, the Board approved a list of 14 potential degree recipients, including author J.K. Rowling and Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh. Knapp ultimately selected international businessman Carlos Slim and alumna and artist Clarice Smith for the degrees, along with Commencement speaker and NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams.

Chairman of the board Russell Ramsey, who announced the candidates at a meeting Friday, lauded Streep for “vigorously supporting the arts.” The actress has picked up 17 Academy Award and 26 Golden Globe nominations ­– the most in the history for each award.

Johnson, an HIV-positive activist and the former point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, came to campus last month for the annual Celebration of Science. Ramsey said Johnson expressed interest in the business schools’ master’s program for professional athletes.

Eric Cantor, who earned his bachelor’s degree in 1985, is the highest-ranking alumnus in Congress, Ramsey said. The Republican, who faces re-election this fall, is also the top-seated Jewish member of any Congress in history.

Ortiz, a 1981 law school graduate, is Boston’s first woman and first Hispanic to serve as U.S. Attorney. She landed the Bostonian of the year nod in 2012 for tackling white-collar crime and corruption throughout the city.

In past years, honorary degree candidates like first lady Michelle Obama, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and civil rights activist Julian Bond were also invited to keynote Commencement.

Nominations come from faculty and students and are vetted by the Faculty Senate.

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