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For more than four decades, RISD has been recognizing 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.

Honorary degree recipients, 1990–2019

  1. 2010s

    2019

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

    2018

    Cai Guo-Qiang | artist
    Annie Leibovitz | photographer

    2017

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

    2016

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

    2015

    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)

    2014

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

    2013

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

    2012

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

    2011

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

    2010

    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

  2. 2000s

    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

    2008

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

    2007

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

    2006

    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

    2005

    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

    2004

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

    2003

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

    2002

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

    2001

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

    2000

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

    * delivered Commencement keynote address

  3. 1990s

    1999

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

    1998

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

    1997

    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

    1996

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

    1995

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

    1994

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

    1993

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

    1992

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

    1991

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

    1990

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

    * delivered Commencement keynote address

Stories about recent honorary degree recipients

Spotlighting Social Justice at Commencement 2019

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 96 FAV are being recognized at this year’s ceremony.

Saluting Success @Commencement 17

RISD grads and Airbnb cofounders Joe Gebbia 05 GD/ID and Brian Chesky 04 ID are among the honored guests joining the celebration at Commencement 2017.

Selected honorary degree recipients