Honorary Degree Process and Criteria

The George Washington University values the opportunity to contribute to society by extending recognition to individuals demonstrating the values of the university. We are honored to award degrees honoris causa to those who reflect the diversity of the university and the country, further human well-being, and achieve exceptional scholarly or professional distinction in their field.



Nominations of candidates for honorary degrees are received throughout the year by the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs. Students, faculty, administrators, deans, alumni, and members of the general public may nominate individuals for honorary degrees. Nominations must be submitted by email to [email protected]. The form (PDF | Word) contains detailed information about how to submit nominations.

After being received in the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, nominations are reviewed by the Faculty Senate Committee on Honors and Academic Convocations, which offers its recommendations to the President and Provost. Approved nominations are then considered by the Board of Trustees Committee on Academic Affairs and then by the full Board.

Working from the Board-approved list of nominees, university officials select a group of honorees for Commencement. Individuals so designated receive an invitation from the President. It should be noted that:

  • the President, on behalf of the Board, is the only person authorized to invite a person to receive an honorary degree;
  • the university never confers an honorary degree in absentia; and
  • the university never pays a speaking fee to a person receiving an honorary degree (although the university does, of course, cover expenses).


The goal of assembling a group of honorees for commencement is to bring credit to the university, inspire the graduates, and reflect the diversity of the university and the country.

The three criteria used for selecting honorary degree recipients are listed below. Nominees should distinguish themselves in at least two of the three categories:

  1. Distinguished professional, scholarly, intellectual, or creative achievement
  2. Demonstrated interest in activities that contribute to the public good, including public service and/or philanthropy
  3. Connection to the George Washington University


Q: What is the purpose of awarding honorary degrees?
A: Honorary degrees are awarded to people who will inspire the graduating class, bring honor to the university, and pay tribute to our diverse nation. Honorary degrees are conferred on individuals who demonstrate the value of hard work, dignity, and integrity.

Q: What does GW look for in honorary degree nominees?
A: Nominees must display strong character as well as notable achievement in any of the following areas:

  • Scholarship in any discipline – major breakthroughs in knowledge in fields of scholarly work;
  • Creative arts – in the broad sense of the term, including literature, music, architecture, dance, poetry, etc;
  • Professions – distinguished contributions and innovations;
  • Public service – outstanding achievement in statesmanship, administration, legislative activity, the judiciary

GW administrators, faculty, and staff are not eligible for honorary degrees until one year after retirement.

Q: What honorary degrees does the university award?
A: One of the following honorary degrees may be awarded:

  • Doctor of Letters
  • Doctor of Literature
  • Doctor of Science
  • Doctor of Music
  • Doctor of Fine Arts honoris causa
  • Doctor of Laws
  • Doctor of Civil Law
  • Doctor of Social Science
  • Doctor of Commercial Science
  • Doctor of Public Service
  • Doctor of Divinity
  • Doctor of Humanities
  • Doctor of Humane Letters

Note: When a degree, such as Doctor of Music, can be either earned or honorary, the words “honoris causa” are added to indicate that the degree is honorary.

Q: When are honorary degrees awarded?
A: At the University Commencement in May and at special convocations throughout the academic year.

Q: Who may make a nomination for an honorary degree?
A: Anyone – students, faculty, administrators, deans, alumni, and members of the general public – may nominate a person for an honorary degree.

Q: How do I make a nomination?
A: Complete an honorary degree nomination form and send via email to [email protected], in the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs.

Q: When are nominations due?
A: Nominations are accepted at any time during the year. 

Q: Who reviews the nominations?
A: The Faculty Senate Committee on Honors and Academic Convocations, the President of the university, the Board of Trustees Committee on Academic Affairs, and the entire Board of Trustees.

Q: When will I hear if my nomination has been accepted?
A: All deliberations about honorary degrees are strictly confidential. Therefore, nominators do not receive notification of the status of their recommendations.

Q: May I nominate someone who has received an honorary degree from GW in the past?
A: No. Individuals may only receive one honorary degree from GW. Please see the the list of past recipients before submitting a nomination.

Important note: Nominations are confidential and should not be discussed with nominees. While many distinguished people are nominated for honorary degrees, not all can be recognized. The President, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, invites individuals to receive honorary degrees.