University of Southern California

2013 Honorary Degree Recipients

John Gurdon

John Gurdon has led significant advances in the field of developmental biology, particularly through his groundbreaking work in nuclear transplantation and cloning.  In the 1960s, his seminal experiments demonstrated the viability of animal cloning, and laid the foundation for modern stem cell research.  Sir Gurdon’s discoveries have transformed the understanding of how cells and organisms develop, and led to major medical breakthroughs.  For these singular contributions, he was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

David Henry Hwang

David Henry Hwang has distinguished himself as a renowned playwright, screenwriter, and librettist.  He is best known as the author of the award-winning M. Butterfly, and has written several other acclaimed dramas, including Golden Child, Yellow Face, and his most recent play, Chinglish.  Mr. Hwang has received many accolades, including the Steinberg Award for playwriting, the largest monetary prize in theater, and President Bill Clinton appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, a position he held from 1994 to 2001.

Jimmy Iovine

Jimmy Iovine is the chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M Records and co-founder of Beats By Dr. Dre.  Over the course of his four-decade career, he has worked with world-famous artists and rising stars as a recording engineer, producer, and co-founder of the record label Interscope.  He has also helped cultivate new talent as a mentor on Fox’s long-running and wildly popular series, American Idol.  Mr. Iovine stands among the most celebrated luminaries in the music industry, deeply admired for his legendary accomplishments and forward-thinking leadership.

Glorya Kaufman

Glorya Kaufman has established a stellar profile as an arts benefactor, and has earned an eminent position among the world’s leading champions of dance.  For several decades, she has focused her energy on philanthropic ventures, forming a foundation to support dance, fine arts, theater, education, research, medicine, and other interests.  In 2012, she committed one of the largest gifts in the history of American dance to create and endow the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and construct the Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center at USC.

Edward P. Roski

Edward P. Roski serves as chairman and chief executive officer of Majestic Realty Co., one of the oldest and largest privately held real estate companies in the United States.  He has made extraordinary contributions to the surrounding region as a civic leader and as co-owner of the Los Angeles Kings, the Lakers, and the Staples Center.  He is a dedicated USC alumnus and has played a vital role in the university’s continued ascent through his work as chairman of the USC Board of Trustees.

Gayle Garner Roski

Gayle Garner Roski is a longtime USC supporter and devoted patron of the arts.  She is a superbly talented artist, whose vibrant watercolors have been exhibited extensively in museums and galleries throughout the world.  Together with her husband Edward, she provided a remarkable gift to USC’s fine arts school, which was renamed the USC Gayle Garner Roski School of Fine Arts in her honor.  Mrs. Roski remains one of the city’s most passionate cultural ambassadors, heading public art projects throughout the region.

You can view a list of previous recipients here.

Honorary Degrees at USC

Since Commencement 1912, the University of Southern California has awarded honorary degrees, presently the highest award the university confers. Honorary degrees are given:

  • To honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions or other creative activities, whether or not they are widely known by the general public;
  • To honor alumni and other individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part;
  • To recognize exceptional acts of philanthropy to the university and/or on the nation or world scene; and
  • To elevate the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor.For more information about the nomination and selection process, please click here.

The History of Honorary Degrees

Honorary degrees began in the Middle Ages as a way for the ruling class to highlight individuals it felt warranted recognition. In the Elizabethan Era, honorary degrees were commonplace. The practice in America dates back to end of the 17th Century when Increase Mather received a Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from Harvard in 1692. Revolutionary War heroes were also chosen by Ivy League institutions for academic accolades; General George Washington was given a Doctor of Laws degree, also from Harvard.

By the mid-20th Century, universities began to work closely with faculty and trustees to devise an evaluation system, one that would ensure only the highest standards of excellence would be considered during the selection process. Individual universities still follow their own guidelines, but all remain aware of the sanctity of the honor. Generally, the honorary degree is a doctorate; masters’ degrees are rare, and Ph.D.s are unofficially prohibited.