Carnegie Mellon University

Commencement Weekend

May 19 - 20, 2018

Keynote and Honorees

The keynote address and awarding of honorary degrees are major highlights of the main commencement ceremony. An honorary degree from Carnegie Mellon is one of the highest distinctions the university bestows upon an individual, and awarding them is a long-standing tradition.

The keynote speaker and honorary degree recipients are an inspiration to the Carnegie Mellon community, especially to the graduating students. They add luster to the commencement ceremony by underscoring the importance of the university in the world and honoring those who have made an impact in the arts, business, computer science, engineering, humanities, policy, sciences or social sciences.

Members of the Carnegie Mellon University community are invited to nominate deserving candidates for honorary degrees, which will be bestowed at the main commencement ceremony. Nominations are welcome from students, staff, faculty and alumni. Review the nomination criteria and submit a nomination by November 20, 2017.

Nomination Process

Nominations are submitted to an Honorary Degree Review Committee, whose members include representatives from the faculty, student government (graduate and undergraduate), staff and board of trustees. This committee then presents nominations to the president and board of trustees for final approval.

Please know that committee members are not authorized to discuss their deliberations or recommendations outside committee meetings, nor do they receive any advance notice of actions taken on their recommendations.

Any actions leading to the granting of an honorary degree are frequently delayed for a year or more for scheduling reasons. It is common for candidates to be honored in years subsequent to their initial nomination. Candidates who are not selected will remain under consideration for three consecutive years.

Nomination Criteria

Nominees for the honorary degree must be distinguished individuals who have:

  • Reached preeminent levels of distinction in their fields and demonstrated extraordinary achievements, preferably those associated with educational, research or performance programs at Carnegie Mellon
  • Demonstrated respect and appreciation for the responsibilities of citizenship and service to society

It is desirable that nominees have connections to Carnegie Mellon (ex: alumni, former faculty, friends, collaborators) and represent the diversity of the university culture and community.

Please note that it is the university's practice to honor public servants and political leaders only after their terms of office have ended. In addition, with rare exceptions, the committee does not consider nominations of current Carnegie Mellon faculty, staff, students or trustees.

Past Speakers and Honorees


Keynote Speaker

  • Meg Whitman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hewlett Packard Enterprise
    (also received an honorary degree)
Honorary Degree Recipients
  • Mahzarin R. Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Department of Psychology, Harvard University
  • Vivian Davidson Hewitt (MM 1944), Retired Chief Librarian, Art Collector and Distinguished Awards Recipient
  • Michael Keaton, Actor
  • Bernard Osher, Founder and Treasurer, The Bernard Osher Foundation


Keynote Speaker

  • Earl Lewis, president, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
    (also received an honorary degree)

Honorary Degree Recipients

  • Holly Hunter (A 1980), actress/producer
  • Robert S. Langer, David H. Koch Institute Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Sonia Manzano (A 1972), actor/author
  • James R. Swartz (TPR 1966), founding partner, Accel Partners


Keynote Speaker

  • Alan Alda, actor, writer and director
    (also received an honorary degree)
Honorary Degree Recipients
  • Joyce Kozloff (A 1964), artist
  • Kai-Fu Lee (CS 1988 and past faculty), chairman and CEO, Innovation Works
  • Stephen Schwartz (A 1968), composer and lyricist
  • Carl E. Wieman, professor, Department of Physics and Graduate School of Education, Stanford University
Contact University Events for a complete history.