President Ruth Simmons will deliver the commencement addresses at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Rochester this year. She will also receive honorary degrees from the universities – the 32nd and 33rd honorary degrees she has received in her lifetime. Simmons will speak at Oklahoma and Rochester May 11 and May 20, respectively.
“The fact that she is stepping down contributed” to her selection this year, said Richard Feldman, University of Rochester dean of the college of arts, sciences and engineering. “It seemed to be a good time.” Feldman said he was delighted to have Simmons speak, this year especially. The University of Rochester’s president hand-picks the commencement speaker each year, he said.
“Those of us who know (Simmons) think she’s been a wonderful leader at Brown and at Smith before that,” Feldman said. He cited her impressive life story and commitment to education as reasons for the selection.
Simmons is “a scholar who believes in the power of education to transform lives, a theme that resonates at the University of Oklahoma,” wrote Catherine Bishop, vice president of public affairs at the University of Oklahoma, in an email to The Herald.
Bishop cited Simmons’ recognition in the U.S. News and World Report and Newsweek, along with her “many successes” as factors that contributed to the decision. Simmons was selected from a group of candidates by a committee including students, faculty and staff and was ultimately decided upon by the president of the university.
“Ruth Simmons is one of our nation’s most respected university leaders. She overcame adversity and economic hardship to achieve academic excellence and personal success,” said David Boren, president of the University of Oklahoma. “Her character and personal integrity make President Simmons an outstanding role model for our students.”
Simmons has received more than 30 honorary degrees in her lifetime, from well-known institutions like Harvard, Princeton and Amherst, large research universities such as New York University and small liberal arts colleges including Union College. An honorary degree is “the highest honor” a university can bestow upon a person, Bishop wrote, adding that an honorary degree is recognition of a lifetime of achievement and contributions the individual has made to enrich “the university, state, nation or world.”
Simmons wrote in an email to The Herald that she had not yet begun to write her speech.