Distinguished Honorees

bryan stevenson at podium commencement 2019 speaker

For more than four decades, RISD has recognized selected leaders in contemporary culture with honorary degrees. Presented each year at Commencement, honorary doctor of fine arts degrees celebrate the work of innovative individuals who have made significant social and cultural contributions to society. Honorary degree candidates are selected not only for advancing their fields but for embodying RISD’s values and furthering its mission.

Nomination process

Each spring RISD’s Honorary Degree Committee—appointed by the president and comprised of students, faculty, staff and trustees—solicits, reviews and recommends nominees to the Board of Trustees for the following year’s Commencement ceremony. Once the Board reviews and approves the committee’s nominations, the president selects and extends an invitation to each candidate, who is asked to accept the award in person at Commencement.

Every member of the RISD community is encouraged to submit nominations at any point in the year, with the understanding that the committee reviews nominations a full academic year in advance of when these degrees are awarded.

For more information, read the full honorary degree policy.

Nominate a candidate

Honorary degree recipients, 1990–present

  1. 2022

    Nick Cave | artist
    Cheryl D. Miller* | graphic designer/advocate


    Virgil Abloh* | artist
    David Byrne | musician
    Elizabeth Diller | architect
    Shepard Fairey (BFA 92 IL) | artist/activist
    Lynne Nottage | playwright

  2. 2019

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | writer/activist
    Theaster Gates | artist/activist
    Bryan Stevenson* | lawyer/social justice advocate
    Nadya Tolokonnikova | conceptual artist/political activist


    Cai Guo-Qiang | artist
    Annie Leibovitz | photographer


    Brian Chesky* (RISD BFA 04 ID) | entrepreneur
    Joe Gebbia (RISD trustee + BFA 05 GD/ID) | entrepreneur
    Christina Kim | designer
    Kehinde Wiley | artist


    Hilton Als* | author/art critic
    Martha Rosler** | artist
    Esther Wojcicki | education innovator


    John Waters* | filmmaker
    Adam Gopnik** | author/art critic
    Tina Weymouth (BFA 74 PT) | musician (Talking Heads)
    Chris Frantz (BFA 74 PT) | musician (Talking Heads)
    Jerry Harrison | musician (Talking Heads)


    Todd Oldham | designer
    Jean Kennedy Smith | diplomat/healthcare advocate


    Karl Gerstner | artist/designer/typographer (in absentia)
    Maira Kalman | artist/author/illustrator
    Bill McKibben | author/environmental activist


    Rebecca Solnit | author/historian
    Wang Shu* | architect
    Studio Ghibli | animated filmmakers


    Arnold Berleant | philosopher
    Bill Moggridge* | designer/author/educator
    Mierle Ukeles | public artist


    Art Spiegelman | artist/cartoonist/graphic novelist
    Seymour Chwast | graphic designer/illustrator//typographer
    Paula Granoff (honorary trustee) | art collector/philanthropist
    Ruth Simmons* | educator/college president

    * delivered Commencement keynote address

    ** delivered Graduate Hooding keynote address

  3. 2009

    Betty Woodman | ceramicist
    Sir Ken Robinson* | author/arts educator/advocate
    Caterina Fake | entrepreneur
    Jonathan Ive | industrial designer
    Roger Mandle (former RISD president) | art historian/arts administrator/advocate


    Yo-Yo Ma | cellist/social advocate
    Laurie Anderson* | performance artist
    Ed Ruscha | artist


    Gore Vidal | novelist
    Seth MacFarlane (RISD BFA 95 FAV) | animator/film + TV producer/director
    Richard Leacock | film director/cinematographer


    Kara Walker (RISD MFA 94 PT/PR) | artist
    Lari Pittman | painter
    Mel Chin | sculptor)
    Jane Chace Carroll (RISD trustee) | philanthropist/arts advocate
    John O.C. McCrillis (RISD BFA 39 GD) | graphic designer


    Kurt Andersen | author/cultural critic/radio host
    Deborah Berke (RISD BArch 77) | architect
    Zuzana Licko and Rudy VanderLans | graphic designers
    Yuri Norstein | animation
    Eva Zeisel | ceramist/industrial designer


    Nathan Lyons | photographer
    David Macaulay (RISD BArch 69) | author/illustrator
    Esther Elise (Estise) Metcalf Mauran (RISD trustee) | philanthropist/arts advocate


    Dave Hickey* | art critic
    Mihaly Czizksentmihalyi | psychologist/author
    Jens Risom | furniture designer
    Jenny Holzer (RISD MFA 77 PT) | conceptual artist


    Henry Louis Gates, Jr.* | critic/historian/educator
    Ann Hamilton | sculptor
    Pauline Trigere | apparel designer
    Szymon Bojko (RISD faculty member) | educator/arts advocate


    Gae Aulenti | architect
    Louis Fazzano* (RISD trustee) | businessman/philanthropist
    David Hammons | illustrator
    Hermann Junger | jewelry artist


    Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová | glass artists
    Paula Rego | painter/printmaker
    Sidney Greenwald (former RISD Board chair) | businessman

    * delivered Commencement keynote address

  4. 1999

    Rosalind Krauss | art critic
    Eugene Lee | set designer
    Rachel L. Mellon | landscape architect


    Malcolm Grear (RISD professor) | graphic designer
    Hugh Hardy | architect
    Se-ok Suh | painter


    Virginia Lynch (RISD trustee) | gallery owner/collector
    Peter Geisser | art educator/glass artist
    Chuck Close | painter
    Antonio Ratti | textile designer
    Vartan Gregorian | educator/college president


    Helen Frankenthaler | painter
    Harvey K. Littleton | glass artist
    Houghton P. Metcalf, Jr. (RISD trustee) | philanthropist
    Lina Wertmuller | filmmaker


    Carlos Gonzalez-Lobo | architect
    John Marshall | cinematographer
    Charlotte Perriand | furniture designer
    Paula Cooper | gallery owner/collector
    John Sculley | software designer


    June Wayne (Printmaker)
    Harve Stein (Illustrator)
    Faith Ringgold (Painter/Sculptor)


    Daphne and Peter Farago | arts advocates/collectors/philanthropists
    William Jordy* | art historian
    Elizabeth Murray | painter
    Ettore Sottsass | industrial designer


    Magdalena Abakanowicz | sculptor/textiles artist
    Geoffrey Beene* | fashion designer
    Sam Maloof | furniture designer
    Maurice Sendak | picture book illustrator


    Liz Claiborne | fashion designer
    Jim Henson (posthumously) | artist/puppeteer
    JB Jackson | landscape architect
    George Morrison* | painter
    Claiborne Pell | senator/arts advocate


    Louis Malle | film director
    Michael Graves | architect
    Dorothy Hood | painter
    Anni Albers | textiles artist

    * delivered Commencement keynote address

President’s Medal of Honor

The President’s Medal of Honor recognizes individuals and organizations who have enhanced RISD through civic engagement, advocacy, philanthropy and other exceptional contributions to the institution. Established in 2019, it commemorates deeds outside the areas of artistic or academic achievement that make an enduring and transformative impact on the college, museum and RISD community.



Pauline C. Metcalf | RISD trustee emerita, RISD Museum governor
Stephen Metcalf | RISD trustee emeritus, RISD Museum governor
Vera Metcalf


Dr. Joseph A. Chazan | nephrologist, art collector and advocate

Selected honorary degree recipients

Distinguished honorees at RISD Commencement

Celebrating RISD’s Class of 2021

An in-person and online Commencement ceremony features student leaders from the classes of 2020 and 2021 and an eclectic array of honorary degree recipients.

Justice Takes Center Stage at Commencement

Keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson will highlight the commitment to equity and inclusion among RISD’s honored guests.

Honoring Innovation at Commencement 2018

Artist Cai Guo-Qiang, photographer Annie Leibovitz and robotics pioneer David Hanson are being recognized at this year’s ceremony.