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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.

Degree Recipients
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.

2019 Honorees

Honorary Degrees were not awarded at the 2019 Charter Day ceremony.

2018 Honorees

Ralph Northam, Governor of Virginia
Trudier Harris, W&M's first tenured African-American faculty member
Frances G. McGlothlin '66, philanthropist
Hunter J. Smith '51, philanthropist

View more recipients of honorary degrees.