A tradition at Washington University since 1859

“You are receiving this well-deserved honor because of your outstanding contributions as well as your dedication to improving lives in service of the greater good…Your names shall be forever inscribed upon the enduring roll of the University’s honorary sons and daughters.”

The honorary degree is traditionally one of the highest honors granted at colleges and universities and honors both the individual receiving the degree and the awarding institution. The same is true here at Washington University, where we honor our recipients each year during Commencement.  


Good candidates for honorary degrees are those who serve the purposes of the university in granting such degrees. The main reasons for making awards are:

  1. to recognize individuals of distinction whose scholarly accomplishments, professional achievements and/or humanitarian service contribute significantly to their field of endeavor, make a significant impact on society and human culture, and reflect exemplary values;
  2. to recognize outstanding service to Washington University and the St. Louis community; and
  3. to bring a heightened level of interest and excitement to the commencement exercises.

Nomination of individuals from diverse backgrounds is emphasized and encouraged.


Sterling K. Brown, 2023

Recent Past Recipients

View the complete list of previous speakers and honorees in chronological (pdf) or alphabetical (pdf) order.

Degree Types

The following is a non-exhaustive list of the types of honorary degrees Washington University has awarded in the past. 

  • Doctor of Arts
  • Doctor of Arts and Architecture
  • Doctor of Engineering
  • Doctor of Humane Letters
  • Doctor of Humanities
  • Doctor of Fine Arts
  • Doctor of Laws
  • Doctor of Medicine
  • Doctor of Philosophy
  • Doctor of Science
  • Master of Arts
  • Master of Sciences

The Latin clause “honoris causa” is part of every honorary degree; it means “for honor’s sake.”