Six to receive honorary degrees from Washington University | The Source | Washington University in St. Louis

Washington University in St. Louis will award six honorary degrees during the university’s Commencement ceremonies, May 20-21.

The university also will bestow academic degrees on approximately 3,200 members of the Class of 2021 during its 160th Commencement.

National Basketball Association great and social justice advocate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will deliver theCommencement address and receive an honorary doctor of humanities degree.

The other honorary degree recipients and their degrees are:

  • Christopher S. “Kit” Bond, the former U.S. senator who earned a reputation over his 40 years of distinguished public service as a skilled statesman able to build coalitions and effectively work across party lines, doctor of laws;
  • Richard H. Helmholz, the Ruth Wyatt Rosenson Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School, a distinguished legal and history scholar with an expertise in medieval and early modern law, doctor of laws;
  • Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and Holocaust survivor who has dedicated her life to fighting racism and intolerance and promoting Holocaust education and human rights, doctor of humanities;
  • Stuart A. Kornfeld, MD, the David C. and Betty Farrell Professor of Medicine at Washington University’s School of Medicine, a renowned physician-scientist, doctor of science; and
  • Shannon Watts, founder of the nation’s largest grassroots group fighting against gun violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, doctor of humanities.

With limitations on gatherings and crowd sizes because of COVID-19, the university will host eight smaller in-person ceremonies on Francis Olympic Field in place of the traditional universitywide Commencement ceremony. There will be a maximum of 500 graduates at each ceremony, with two guests allowed per graduate.

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Because of the need to limit attendees, the honorary degree recipients will be recognized virtually.

“We truly have a remarkable ‘class’ of honorary degree recipients who have all made outstanding contributions to better society and make impactful change,” said Chancellor Andrew D. Martin.

“In their important work, they have exemplified Washington University’s mission to improve lives in service of the greater good, and I am pleased that we can recognize them in this way.”

Honorary degree recipients

Considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time, Abdul-Jabbar is also a humanitarian, a prolific author and an advocate for racial justice and social change.


When Klein received the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, then-President Barack Obama said of her: “As an author, a historian and a crusader for tolerance, she has taught the world that it is often in our most hopeless moments that we discover the extent of our strength and the depth of our love.”

Klein, who endured unimaginable atrocities during six years under Nazi rule, has dedicated her life to fighting racism and intolerance and promoting Holocaust education and human rights.

Klein was among 120 people who survived a 350-mile death march and were liberated by U.S. Army soldiers on May 7, 1945. Kurt Klein, a U.S. Army intelligence officer and himself a refugee from Nazi Germany, was the first to come upon Gerda and the other survivors, and their love story began at that moment. They were married for 56 years, until his death in 2002.

Klein’s memoir, “All But My Life,” has been in print since 1957 and is used in high schools and colleges around the world. It served as the basis for the film “One Survivor Remembers,” which received an Academy Award and Emmy Award and was selected by the Library of Congress to be entered into the National Film Registry.

In 2008, Klein founded Citizenship Counts, a nonprofit whose mission is to educate middle and high school students on the tenets of citizenship, encourage them to appreciate their rights and responsibilities as Americans, and give them an opportunity to celebrate citizenship by engaging in or hosting a naturalization ceremony.

Kornfeld is best known for developing the field of glycoprotein research — the study of how sugars attach to proteins and the roles these molecules play in how cells function.

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