In 1919, Wheaton College conferred its first Honorary Degree at commencement to alumna Kate Upson Clark ’69. Throughout the years, Wheaton has conferred Honorary Degrees to many distinguished and talented individuals. Recently, the process of recipient selection has gone through changes and become more inclusive to community input.
President Dennis Hanno said that this year, the process of nominating and selecting the recipients was different as members of the Wheaton community were encouraged to become involved in the process. “Typically it’s operated in a black box where all of a sudden there is an announcement about who the new candidates are. So at the beginning of this academic year I put together a committee who consisted of faculty, staff and students,” said Hanno. “We put out a call to the whole community both on and off campus to nominate people that they thought were deserving of an honorary degree from the college.”
This was just the initial stage of the process as Hanno went on to explain, “When we put the call out, we received 50 to 100 nominations. This committee that I put together, reviewed the nominations and made recommendations about who they thought would be very deserving candidates to award the honorary degree. They gave me a list of names in October and I used that list to reach out to people to express our interest in honoring them.”
Hanno concluded by saying, “That way, in a nutshell, the way the list was developed was with significant community input and a committee that put together a list for Trustee review because they are ultimately the ones who decide who gets an Honorary Degree.”
This year for Wheaton’s 180th Commencement Ceremony, there will be four recipients of the Honorary Degree. They include Keynote Speaker Lisa Szarkowski ’90 who is vice president of humanitarian emergencies and executive communication for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.
Hanno said, “Lisa Szarkowski exemplifies the power that Wheaton graduates bring to changing lives and strengthening communities through their leadership and service. Wheaton’s objective is to make the world a better place through liberal arts education, and Lisa’s work undoubtedly is creating a better and more just world.”
The other recipients include former NASA astronaut, Steven A. Hawley; Chairman and Principal of Evanston Capital Management, David Wagner and former trustee and retired senior managing director of the Business Council for International Understanding (BCIU), Virginia Weil ’65, P’98.
“I cannot do justice to all their accomplishments,” said Hanno. “But I can tell you that what I like about it is that there are two Wheaton alums and two non-alums and a balance of inside and outside. Their accomplishments come from all different areas and I think the four of them mirror the diversity of interest that we have here at Wheaton. No matter who you are, as a current student, you can look at them and say – I can be that person someday.”