Honorary Degree and Commencement Speaker Nomination Process

An honorary degree, or a degree honoris causa, is the University’s highest honor, recognizing a distinguished person’s contributions to a specific field or to society in general. Commencement speakers are distinguished individuals selected to deliver an inspirational address to graduates. On occasion, the commencement speaker may receive an honorary degree from the University and must meet the criteria for an honorary doctorate.

Honorary degrees are awarded at University commencement ceremonies, however, under special circumstances, they can be awarded outside commencement ceremonies.


The Honorary Degree and Commencement Speaker Committee is an advisory group charged by the President to review and identify the nominations for honorary degrees and commencement speakers, to ensure the nominees reflect the mission and values of St. John’s University, and to ensure they meet one or more of the below criteria. The Committee is advisory to the President who submits final recommendations to the Board of Trustees for consideration and approval.


All nominees must reflect the mission and values of St. John’s University and must meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Reflect the mission and underlying Catholic and Vincentian values of the University
  • Distinguished record of service to society
  • Exhibit exemplary leadership in their field, business, public service, or higher education
  • Distinguished record of personal/professional achievement and success
  • Benefactor/potential benefactor of the University
  • Exemplary public and personal character

In selecting honorary degree recipients, the University seeks individuals whose achievements reflect the values and mission of St. John’s and must possess a distinguished record of service to society.

Commencement speakers will also be chosen based on the outlined criteria. Given that the ceremony is a celebration of the accomplishments of the graduating class, commencement speaker nominees should also have the ability to give a positive, meaningful, and inspirational address to the graduating class and their families and should also be engaging and charismatic.

The Committee will review all nominees. Nominees deemed worthy of further consideration will be forwarded to the President.


Candidates actively running for political office or sitting elected officials are not eligible to be selected as a Commencement Speaker or to receive an Honorary Degree from the University. Current faculty, students, staff, and administrators of the University are not eligible to receive an Honorary Degree.

The President may make an exception to these nomination exemptions in consultation with the Chair of the Board of Trustees.

Honorary Degree Categories

Customarily, the following Honorary Degrees may be granted by the University:

  • Doctor of Commercial Science – distinguished service/achievement in the field of business and industry.
  • Doctor of Divinity - distinguished service/achievement to ministry as a minister of religion (bestowed upon exceptional religious figures).
  • Doctor of Engineering – distinguished service/achievement in the field of science and technology (concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures).
  • Doctor of Fine Arts – distinguished service/achievement in the arts, performance, or music (bestowed primarily bestowed upon musicians, actors, and artists).
  • Doctor of Humane Letters – distinguished service/achievement to scholarship or other merits (history, philosophy, and language).
  • Doctor of Laws – distinguished service/achievement to state or to nation (law, public policy and public service).
  • Doctor of Letters – distinguished service/achievement in the field of journalism and communications.
  • Doctor of Military Science and Tactics – distinguished service/achievement in the field of military science and tactics (military history, tactics or military logistics, negotiation, human behavior, electronics and biochemistry).
  • Doctor of Music – distinguished service/achievement in the field of music (portfolio of compositions and/or scholarly publications on music).
  • Doctor of Pedagogy - distinguished service/achievement in the field of education, instruction, and teaching.
  • Doctor of Sacred Theology – distinguished contributions in the field of theology and theological studies.
  • Doctor of Science – distinguished service/achievement to the science, medicine, or related fields (contribution to scientific knowledge, revolutionary scientific research and discovery).


The President and the Board of Trustees invite nominations for honorary degrees and commencement speakers from the University community. All nominations should include basic biographical information and rationale for recognition. The Committee may also bring forth nominations. Self-nominations will not be considered. Individuals who wish to nominate a candidate should complete a nomination form.  

The nomination period for Honorary Degrees and Speakers for May 2024 Commencement ceremonies closed on October 13, 2023. 

The nomination period for Honorary Degrees presented at events other than Commencement are due nine months prior to the event date.

The Committee will consider approved nominees for these honors for two years from the date of nomination. If an approved nominee is not selected within the two-year period, they will be removed from the list of approved candidates.

Please contact Nunzia Manuli, Vice President, Chief of Staff, and University Secretary at [email protected], for questions regarding the nomination process.


Nominees should not be made aware of the nomination and letters of support should not be solicited to support the nomination. Unfortunately, not all extraordinary nominees can be honored and a failed nomination can be embarrassing and hurtful if not handled appropriately.