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Honorary Degrees

Honorary degrees are typically awarded by William & Mary at Charter Day and Commencement ceremonies as well as other special events to distinguished individuals. The tradition was begun in 1756 with the granting of an honorary degree to Benjamin Franklin.

2021 Honorees
2021 Honorary Degree Recipients
Jayne Weeks Barnard, James Cutler Professor of Law, emerita
Award citation

Jayne Weeks Barnard, colleague and guide, yours is a career marked by passionate service. As a lawyer and scholar, you have fought tirelessly for civil rights and civil justice. That work inspired countless law students, as well as this university as a whole.

Hailing from South Euclid, Ohio, and a self-proclaimed “word person,” you chose to major in journalism at the University of Illinois. During an internship on Capitol Hill, you saw in action the incredibly smart and dedicated women who kept government working. You witnessed the invisibility of that work, as well, and carried that knowledge with you on your path to law school at the University of Chicago.

The colleagues and friends who know you best give you a triple crown: book smart, street smart and politically savvy. You have always approached the law with humanity and integrity. As a nationally-known expert in corporations, corporate governance and securities regulation law, you were the first to propose that people harmed by economic crimes should be able to present victim-impact testimony at sentencing hearings. Your work was instrumental in Congress ultimately passing the Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2004.

In 1985, you joined the faculty of William & Mary Law School and immediately made an impact on this community. A former student says your dignity, classiness and kind personality gave her a model for how she wanted to conduct herself as a lawyer and professional woman. You take special pride in your involvement with the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2010 the ACLU of Virginia elected you as president, a culmination of a 30-year commitment to the cause.

Whether helping to found the Business Law Review or chairing countless committees with great energy, you bring your full self to all you do. After retiring from the Law School, you co-chaired the committee that coordinated a year-long celebration, commemoration and exploration to mark the 100th anniversary of women at William & Mary. You currently serve on the boards of the Hospice House & Support Care of Williamsburg and Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (VADP).

Jayne Weeks Barnard, you are a trailblazer who has made an indelible impact on the field of law, your students and this university. William & Mary is so pleased to honor you. By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Visitors and the Ancient Royal Charter of The College of William & Mary in Virginia, I hereby confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa.

Jacquelyn Yvonne McLendon, Professor of English and Africana Studies, emerita
Award citation

Jacquelyn Yvonne McLendon, in the nearly three decades since you arrived at William & Mary, you have played a pivotal role advancing scholarship, learning and self-understanding at this university. Even in your retirement, the fruits of your research shine a light on members of our community whose stories have seldom been told.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, you grew up loving to read and write and dreamt of one day becoming a writer. After working for the government and starting a family, you decided to attend college in hopes of moving up in the government sector. Little did you know you were embarking on a 10-year-long path to become a scholar, academic, diversity advocate and beloved professor.

After earning your undergraduate degree at Temple University as a single mother, you moved home to Ohio to pursue your master’s and doctoral degrees at Case Western University while caring for your mother. At the encouragement of several professors, you chose the arduous path of an academic trailblazer.

From the moment you came to William & Mary, you propelled change. You pioneered the creation of a Black Studies Program and served as its founding director, and you continued to shape its development as it evolved with the expanding discipline into Africana studies. As professor of English and Africana studies, your scholarship illuminated the Harlem Renaissance, and the work of Black women writers and Black American artists. When William & Mary marked the 50th anniversary of
the university’s first African-American students in residence, you leaned in once again, to chair of the commemoration planning committee.

The conversations you had, people you met and stories you heard during the year-long commemoration inspired you to write the university’s first history of its Black community: “Building on the Legacy: African Americans at William & Mary, An Illustrated History of 50 Years and Beyond.” You
have fulfilled your childhood dream of becoming a writer by authoring and editing numerous other books, including “The Politics of Color in the Fiction of Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen,” “Phillis Wheatley: A Revolutionary Poet” and “Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Nella Larsen.”

An honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa, you have continued to teach part-time since retiring in 2013, including your current role teaching remotely for the University of Maryland Global Campus.

Jacquelyn Yvonne McLendon, we honor your groundbreaking work amplifying voices who have too long been lost and silenced. William & Mary has been fortunate indeed in your leadership. By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Visitors and the Ancient Royal Charter of The College of William & Mary in Virginia, I hereby confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa.

George Warren Cook, artist and former Assistant Chief of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe
Award citation

George Warren Cook, you are a celebrated artist, decades-long community leader and well-respected elder of the Pamunkey Tribe. We honor today the positive impact of your many contributions to the lives of those in your Tribe and beyond.

Raised on the Pamunkey Indian Reservation in King William County, Virginia, during the time of segregation, you were unable to attend Virginia public schools. A one-room Reservation school offered education until the age of 14. To earn a diploma, you left to attend the Bureau of Indian Affairs
boarding school on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Reservation in North Carolina. Attending school with members of other tribes was not always easy, but it gave you the opportunity to work with several renowned Cherokee artists. Among these artists was Amanda Crow, an Eastern Band Cherokee woodcarver and graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, who inspired you to pursue art.

As one of only a few Virginia Indians from your generation to attend college, you pursued your passion by studying art at West Carolina University and Virginia Commonwealth University. As an artist, you work in many media, including woodcarving, painting, jewelry and ceramics. Your work has been exhibited in institutions such as the Smithsonian and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. And you have advanced the careers of others, playing a key role in launching the Pamunkey Indian Museum and Cultural Center, where you served as director and curator for three decades. As manager of the
Powhatan Artisans Project, your leadership helped revitalize craft and artistic expression among the Virginia Indian tribes.

Following in the footsteps of your father and grandfather, you helped lead the Pamunkey Indian Tribe for four decades as a member of its tribal government, including 25 years as assistant chief. As a tribal leader, you secured funding for and directed the Mattaponi Pamunkey Monacan Jobs Training Act Consortium, which supported education, job training and job placement among Virginia Indians. You also secured and managed several federal grants to support home improvements for reservation residents, as well as a major renovation of the Pamunkey Indian Fish Hatchery, which you later managed.

Throughout your life, you have worked tirelessly to preserve the history of your tribe and shape its future. You played an instrumental role in helping the Pamunkey people achieve long-awaited federal recognition in 2016. You retired from tribal government in September 2020, making this year a fitting time to honor your unrivaled knowledge of Pamunkey history, culture and practices.

George Warren Cook, for your artistic achievements, commitment to your community and your decades-long leadership of the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, William & Mary is proud to honor you. By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Visitors and the Ancient Royal Charter of The
College of William & Mary in Virginia, I hereby confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Public Service, Honoris Causa.

Patrick James O’Connell, Chef and Proprietor of The Inn at Little Washington
Award citation

Patrick James O’Connell, you are a recognized innovator and entrepreneur, a self-taught chef and restauranteur whose cuisine has drawn admirers from around the world. Your Inn at Little Washington
has earned countless honors, including being the only restaurant in the Washington, D.C., area to earn three stars from the Michelin Guide, and the only Michelin-rated restaurant in Virginia.

As a young man growing up in Clinton, Maryland, you took a job at Mr. H Hamburgers at the age of 15. You have described this as the best decision you ever made. From the moment you walked in, you found restaurants to be like living theaters, and discovered a place where you could truly be yourself amongst kindred spirits.

After earning an undergraduate degree in drama from the Catholic University of America and studying at George Washington University, you pursued the arts of extraordinary hospitality in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Using a wood-burning cookstove and an electric frying pan purchased at a yard sale, you started a catering business out of your farmhouse in Washington, Virginia. You opened your own restaurant in an abandoned garage — the iconic launch site for all entrepreneurs.

With passion and vision, you have transformed your restaurant from a neighborhood eatery to an international culinary phenomenon. At a time when few thought there could be anything refined about American cooking, you took cherished childhood flavors and reimagined them in ways piquant and grand.

Lovingly referred to as “The Pope of American Cuisine,” you have earned such distinctions as the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award. The Inn has been named as one of the top 10 restaurants in the world by the International Herald Tribune.

In addition to your work at the Inn, you are deeply invested in your community, serving in such roles as chairman of the Architectural Review Board of Washington, Virginia, and working with multiple charitable organizations, including Share Our Strength and Population Services International. You currently serve as president of Relais & Chateâux North America, and your American Culinary Pioneer Awards are presented annually. In the more than 40 years since you first opened the doors of your Inn, you are in your kitchen nearly every day — the spot in the universe where you flourish and help ensure your guests will too.

Patrick James O’Connell, for the immense creativity your talents have brought to our Commonwealth and the world, this university is proud to honor you. By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Visitors and the Ancient Royal Charter of The College of William & Mary in Virginia, I hereby confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa.

2020 Honorees
2020 Honorary Degree Recipients
Christy Coleman, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Executive Director
Award citation

Christy Shevelle Coleman, you have spent much of your life advocating for the power of museums to tell a fuller and more consequential account of our shared past. As an innovator and pioneer, you have fearlessly asked tough questions about who and what a museum is for, pushed for change to a more inclusive vision of our heritage and shattered ceilings at some of the top museums in the nation. 
 
You approach your work with a sense of high purpose and commitment to the common good. When your personal and professional pathways departed from conventional wisdom, you courageously blazed new trails. Beginning early in life, you have been on a mission to do things your way. 
 
Growing up in Williamsburg, you witnessed first-hand how history is memorialized. You initially enrolled at William & Mary, then transferred to Hampton University, where you earned your bachelor’s and master’s degrees. You launched your career at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and quickly realized that the museum world was for you – and that you had a talent and passion to lead it forward.  
 
As director of public history at Colonial Williamsburg, you redefined the performance of history – successfully negotiating for the chance to include a reenactment of a slave auction in CW’s public programs. Your achievement was powerful and controversial. It illuminated how difficult it is for us to deal with America’s past openly and honestly, and also how necessary that work is. James Baldwin teaches that “the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways … history is literally present in all that we do” and by acknowledging it fearlessly and forthrightly, we craft a different future. 
 
You continued to craft that future as the CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, which you joined in 1999, before adding the title of “parent” to your other leadership roles. In 2008, you assumed the helm at the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. And then in 2013, you guided the successful merger of that museum with the Museum of the Confederacy to create the American Civil War Museum in Richmond.  
 
In all your roles, you have excelled in the art of telling complex and even anguishing stories with a grace that enables deeper understanding – in interviews and public talks, as a screenwriter and curating ground-breaking programs that draw in new audiences. In 2018, Time magazine named you among the “31 People Who Are Changing the South” and you garnered a spot on Style magazine’s the Richmond Power List. In 2019, you lent your expertise to the Focus Features film “Harriet” as a consultant. 
 
Now, after 12 years at the ACWM, you are returning home professionally. As executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation you are making history once again as the first woman and first person of color to steer JYF. We look forward to the ways you will realize its potential as an engine of innovation in U.S. History. Among your first expressed commitments is to cultivate the next generation of under-represented museum leaders there. You exemplify the great Mary Church Terrell’s maxim that we must “lift as we climb.” 
 
Christy Shevelle Coleman, William & Mary is proud to honor you for your pioneering and courageous leadership. By the authority vested in me by the Board of Visitors and the Ancient Royal Charter of The College of William & Mary in Virginia, I hereby confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa

Susan Aheron Magill '72, former Rector, W&M Board of Visitors
Award citation

Susan Aheron Magill, yours is a life of accomplishment and service. Throughout your career, you radiated a passion for government, for your country and for your home state of Virginia. You inspired those who worked with you and left a lasting legacy in Washington and Virginia. 
 
Growing up in Roanoke, you cultivated a powerful work ethic doing chores on your family’s small beef cattle farm. In the late 1960s, you left your hometown to attend William & Mary. Your experiences at the university ignited a lifelong interest in politics and public policy and you graduated in 1972 with a degree in government. 
 
You launched a distinguished career in Washington in 1973, a time when few women worked on Capitol Hill. You joined the office of Rep. M. Caldwell Butler before taking a job in the Washington office of Virginia Gov. John N. Dalton. In 1982, U.S. Sen. John W. Warner hired you as a legislative aide and you rose quickly to become his chief of staff. For more than two decades, you were Warner’s “right hand.” Sen. Warner has frequently said your counsel was invaluable because you exhibited no fear of disagreeing with him. You always let him have it straight.  
 
Like so many pioneers, you managed the demands of the Hill while raising two children, Beth ’06 and Jay, with your husband and fellow Capitol Hill congressional office chief of staff, John. Your coworkers lauded your competency, political savvy and charm. In 1997, Washingtonian magazine named you one of the city’s most powerful women.  
 
Your tenure on the Hill spanned seven presidencies. You served as executive director of the Joint Congressional Committees on Inaugural Ceremonies for President Bill Clinton’s second inauguration. In 2006, you retired from government service, and stepped into the role of managing director of government relations and philanthropic services for Pew Charitable Trusts. 
Throughout your career, you remained closely connected with your alma mater, serving on William & Mary’s Board of Visitors for nine years. In 2003, you made history as only the second woman to assume the role of rector. In 2007, the university recognized your service with the Alumni Medallion, the highest and most prestigious award presented by the Alumni Association. 
 
You became vice president for advancement at George Washington’s Historic Mount Vernon in 2010. You have volunteered with several community and professional organizations, including the Board of Advisors for Mount Vernon, the American Council of Young Political Leaders, W&M’s Public Policy Advisory Board and the W&M Washington Council. You also served on the Commission to Ensure Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, which you chaired for two years. 
 
You are a charter member of the university’s Society of 1918 and currently chair its leadership committee. In November 2019, you were appointed to a three-year term on the President’s Monroe-Highland Commission. 
 
Susan Aheron Magill, for your life of service to your country, the Commonwealth and your alma mater, William & Mary is proud to honor you. By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Visitors and the Ancient Royal Charter of The College of William & Mary in Virginia, I hereby confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Public Service, Honoris Causa

Thomas A. Shannon Jr. '80, former Ambassador and U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Award citation

Thomas Alfred Shannon Jr., you have dedicated your career to public service. You once said “to be an American diplomat is a high calling.” Time and time again, you have answered this call with unwavering devotion. 
 
Your 35-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service culminated in 2017 when you became Acting Secretary of State. Over the course of that career, you served under six presidents and 11 secretaries of state. Your work kept you abroad much of your career. While overseas, you guided countries experiencing profound change and transformation to the benefit of both the United States and the countries in which you worked.  
 
In 2016, President Barack Obama appointed you Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. As the third-highest-ranking state official, you managed regional and bilateral policy and oversaw diplomatic activity across the world.  
 
Prior to that appointment, you worked as counselor and senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry. You represented your country as U.S. ambassador to Brazil from 2010 to 2013 and achieved the rank of career ambassador — the highest rank in the U.S. Foreign Service and a title conveyed to only the most accomplished diplomats. You have also worked at the embassies in Guatemala, South Africa and Venezuela. 
 
In recognition of your outstanding service to the nation, you received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award as well as the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award and Career Achievement Award. In 2018, Brazil presented you with the Order of Rio Branco, the country’s highest honor for foreigners.  
 
In 2018, you retired from the State Department. You are now a senior international policy advisor for Arnold & Porter law firm. A leader in your field, you hold appointments on the boards of several civic and professional organizations. In addition to your professional accomplishments, you are also a devoted husband to your wife, Guisela, father to two grown sons and an avid NASCAR fan.  
 
As a student at William & Mary, you studied government and philosophy and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. You continued your education at Oxford University, where you earned your master’s and doctoral degrees. Despite your demanding schedule, you have returned to your alma mater on numerous occasions to share your experience, knowledge and insight with future generations of diplomats and policy-makers. 
 
Thomas Alfred Shannon Jr., for your distinguished service to the nation, your alma mater is proud to honor you. By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Visitors and the Ancient Royal Charter of The College of William & Mary in Virginia, I hereby confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Public Service, Honoris Causa.

View more Honorary Degree recipients.