Honorary Degrees Conferred

Recipients have stellar achievements in the arts, public service, and education

During Commencement 2016, Grinnell College awarded honorary degrees to individuals making major contributions to the fields of literature, politics, music,and education.

Celebrated British novelist Zadie Smith was May’s Commencement speaker. A native of North London and a 1997 graduate of the University of Cambridge, Smith burst onto the literary scene in 2000 with a novel about contemporary multicultural London titled White Teeth. The book won numerous honors, including the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Smith’s subsequent works received the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize for Fiction and the Orange Prize for Fiction. She has twice been named among the “Best of Young British Novelists” by Granta magazine. The New York Times called her novel NW one of the 10 Best Books of 2012. A professor of creative writing at New York University, Smith writes regularly for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. She received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

Thomas Cole ’71 has served as U.S. Representative for Oklahoma’s 4th District since 2002. Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, he is the fourth-ranking Republican leader in the House. Cole is one of only two Native Americans now serving in Congress and was inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame in 2004. He received an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Fred Hersch ’77 is a pianist, composer, and one of the world’s foremost jazz artists. He is described as “one of the small handful of brilliant musicians of his generation” by Downbeat magazine. A member of the jazz studies faculty at the New England Conservatory of Music, Hersch received a 2003 Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship for composition and numerous Grammy nominations. He was awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

Claudia Swisher was an English teacher for several decades at Norman North High School in Norman, Okla., where she was admired for going above and beyond in her efforts to connect with students. Swisher is known for her belief that education should be formed around children and their interests rather than having those interests manipulated to conform to education. She received an honorary doctor of social studies degree.

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