Colleges and universities will give out honorary degrees to various individuals of note, typically celebrities, politicians, and business people, as a way to establish or maintain a relationship with these people. Sometimes they’re just a matter of gaining a little bit of notoriety or trying to get into the public eye. Most recipients haven’t really done anything to receive them, but they’re still considered something of an honor. In terms of realistic credentials though, they don’t account for much. And some of the people who have them are pretty surprising.
10. Kermit the Frog and Donald Duck Both Have Degrees
The academic world is known to take itself a bit too seriously sometimes, so in a way it’s nice to see that they can cut loose and be a little goofy like the rest of us sometimes. That’s probably the best way to explain why Kermit the Frog has an honorary degree.
Everyone’s favorite Muppet was presented with an MBA from the Robert H. Smith School of Business in 2015. That’s not even the only one he has. About a decade earlier, Kermit received an honorary Doctorate of Amphibious Letters from Long Island University’s Southampton College for his environmental work. So Kermit is technically a doctor.
Kermit isn’t the only fictional character enjoying higher education. For years the University of Oregon had a duck as a mascot. The Oregon Duck was licensed from Disney and is more or less Donald Duck, just wearing different clothes. The relationship between Disney and the University of Oregon was so close that the University hosted Donald Duck and gave him an honorary degree from the school.
In 2010, Disney and the university ended their licensing agreement and now the duck is just The Duck rather than Donald duck.
9. The Brothers Grimm Has Several Honorary Degrees Between Them
The Brothers Grimm are the source for a good number of our modern fairy tales. They’re mostly famous in the modern era for writing the darker versions that people grew up not realizing existed thanks to more sanitized versions from Disney and story books for children.
Their lifetimes, the Grimm Brothers were fairly well educated men. They even worked as librarians and university professors during their careers. The brothers received honorary doctorates from the University of Marburg in the year 1819. Jacob also had degrees from Berlin University and Berslau University. Despite both men being chiefly known for writing children’s tales, they had both gone to school to study law.
8. Scotty from Star Trek Had an Honorary Engineering Degree
Most people remember actor James Doohan as Scotty from Star Trek. Doohan was born and raised in Canada, and served in the Canadian military where he was deployed to Europe during the Second World War and was on Juno Beach for D-Day.
After the war, he returned to Canada and developed a serious passion for acting. By 1966 he had secured the role of ship’s engineer Montgomery Scott on Star Trek. He played that role for 3 years, and then again in subsequent films featuring the original cast. All things being equal, his real life experiences with engineering were pretty limited.
Thanks to being one of fiction’s most famous engineers he was given an honorary engineering degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering to acknowledge his part in inspiring kids to become engineers in real life.
7. Bill Nye Has a BS But Also at Least 6 Honorary Degrees
It’s very rare that someone who is a real life scientist will become famous in our world. Obviously we know some of history’s most famous scientists like Darwin, Newton and Einstein, but they’re not really celebrities. In the modern world only a handful of scientists ever achieve mainstream fame. You can probably name them all on one hand, people like Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Alongside them you’ll also probably be able to recognize Bill Nye the Science Guy.
A lot of kids grew up watching Bill Nye on TV and learning science from him, and it’s true he is a real scientist with a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell. But in addition to his earned degree, Nye has reportedly been awarded six honorary doctorates over the years from Lehigh University, Willamette University, Quinnipiac University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Goucher College, and Johns Hopkins. He also got what must be a seventh in science education from Simon Fraser University in 2015.
6. The Drummer From Blondie Got an Honorary Degree For His Long Term Work in a Drumming Project
Plenty of people study music in college and earn degrees. It’s not often you hear about someone getting an honorary degree solely because of their chops as a drummer, however. But that is what happened to Clem Burke the drummer from the band Blondie.
Burke was part of a drumming project conducted by the University of Gloucestershire. Meant to explore the physical and psychological effects of drumming, the purpose of the project was to aid children who were considered unhealthy and obese.
Known as the Clem Burke Drumming Project, part of the research delved into the physiological effects of drumming. The heart rate of a drummer in the middle of a set is said to match that of a professional athlete in the midst of playing a game. Drummers exert a tremendous amount of energy and require a tremendous amount of stamina to do what they do.
For his contributions to the project, Burke was awarded an honorary doctorate in music.
5. Bill Gates Never Finished College But Has Numerous Honorary Degrees
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, famously never finished college. However, thanks to his massive success over the years, plenty of schools have gone out of their way to bestow some honors upon the man. Harvard gave Gates an honorary law degree in the year 2007. Gates was once a student at Harvard, but never finished.
He received some international degrees over the years including ones from Nyenrode Business University in The Netherlands in 2000, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in 2002, Waseda University in Tokyo in 2005, China’s Tsinghua University in 2007, Sweden’s Karolinska Institute in 2007 and the University of Cambridge in 2009. The only other US institution to bestow an honorary degree on him was the Northern Arizona University.
4. The Mother of a Blind Law Student Who Helped Her Daughter Graduate was Given an Honorary Degree
Earning a degree at the college level is not an easy task for many people. There are a lot of long hours, a lot of studying, and a lot of stress. Not to mention the cost of tuition that many people have to pay. Turkish student Berru Merve Kul had to deal with all of these things in addition to working on her four-year law degree while being blind.
Over the course of those four years, Kul was aided in her studies by her mother who read her textbooks and lecture notes. When it came time for her to graduate from the school, they made sure that her mother was not forgotten. The school awarded Kul’s mother Havva the same degree, though honorary, for basically doing the exact same work over the same period of time.
3. Johns Hopkins Gave a Degree to a Service Dog
You may be under the impression that one of the qualifications for getting an honorary degree from a school is that you are actually human. This is not the case. Sure, most honorary degrees are awarded to humans but back in the year 2015 Johns Hopkins awarded an honorary degree to Kirsch, a service dog.
Kirsch’s owner Carlos Mora was attending classes and received his Masters of Science in Counseling. Because Kirsch had attended all the classes with him, the dog was given an honorary degree alongside his owner. Maybe it was just a bit of PR for the school, but the feel good story was widely shared online and it’s never a bad thing to have some lighthearted news now and then.
2. Bob Hope Dozens of Honorary Degrees
It’s hard for people who never experienced Bob Hope to appreciate just how famous Bob Hope was. He wasn’t just a comedian; he was an all-around entertainer. He didn’t just work in Hollywood; he went out and entertained troops during wartime around the world. Congress literally made Hope an honorary veteran despite having not been in the armed forces. He was quick-witted, charming, and he knew how to get a laugh. People absolutely loved Bob Hope.
Among Hope’s numerous awards were the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Center in 1985, a Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton in 1995 and even a British knighthood for the British-born entertainer in 1998 when he was 95-years-old.
For a man so well loved and honored, it’s probably no surprise to hear that he was awarded numerous honorary degrees over the years from institutions that wanted to be associated with him. But at some point it gets a little overwhelming and there’s a good chance Hope himself couldn’t keep track of them all. He had over 50 honorary degrees in his lifetime. According to his website the final count was 58.
First was a Doctor of Letters that he received in Illinois all the way back in 1958. He received numerous doctorates and Humane letters, as well as some in the Fine Arts and Law. Others were in Humane Service, International Relations, Oratorical Science and even a few curve balls like Aviation Management and Chiropractic Humanities.
1. Kanye, Missy Elliot, Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake All Got Honorary Degrees
It has been argued in the past that an honorary degree is little more than a publicity stunt from a university. If they choose a popular public figure, especially a celebrity, they can get some clout on social media and maybe some interest from prospective students or donors by having that celebrity show up.
Obviously, every honorary degree is given for a reason, but some of those reasons seem a little bit more legitimate than others. For instance, the sheer number of singers who have been given honorary degrees at universities is actually pretty surprising.
Back in 2015, before his career had gone completely off the rails, Kanye West was given an honorary degree from the Art Institute of Chicago for his artistic abilities.
Taylor Swift, no stranger to both Kanye West and art herself, was given an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts from New York University. In her speech, Swift pointed out that she never actually went to University and was pretty sure she was only getting the honor because she had a song called 22 and she was giving the speech to the class of ‘22.
In 2019, Justin Timberlake along with Missy Elliott and Alex Lacamoire got an honorary degree from Berklee College of Music in Boston. And in a surprising turn, both Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne were awarded as Teachers of the Year in 2011 by the Better Education Place in Florida which handed out the honors because they felt kids had learned a lot by learning the lyrics to rap songs performed by both artists. Not quite a degree, but does that make it more or less legitimate?