2013 Honorary Doctorates and Commencement Speakers

Acclaimed American actor, playwright, and professor Anna Deavere Smith delivered the Commencement address to the 2013 graduating class of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) on Saturday, May 18, at the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park. Along with architect Jeanne Gang and artist Joe Zucker (BFA 1964, MFA 1966), Deavere Smith received an honorary doctorate from SAIC to recognize her achievements and commitment to the arts.


Anna Deavere Smith

Anna Deavere Smith uses her singular brand of theatre to explore issues of community, character, and diversity in America. Newsweek declared her "the most exciting individual in American theatre." Smith is perhaps best known as the author and performer of one-woman, multi-character plays that deal with social issues in America. The prestigious MacArthur Foundation awarded Smith the "Genius" Fellowship for creating "a new form of theatre—a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism, and intimate reverie." In 2013 Smith won the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, one of the largest and most prestigious awards in the arts. In 1997 Smith founded the Institute on the Arts & Civic Dialogue at Harvard University, which is now known as Anna Deavere Smith Works. She is currently the Artist-in-Residence at the Center for American Progress and is researching and writing a new play called The Americans.


Jeanne Gang

Architect and MacArthur Genius Fellow Jeanne Gang is Founder and Principal of Studio Gang Architects, a Chicago-based collective of architects, designers, and thinkers whose projects confront pressing contemporary issues. Through her practice, Jeanne seeks to respond to and reframe questions that lie locally (site, culture, people) and resound globally (density, climate, sustainability). Her projects include the 82-story Aqua Tower, the 2009 Emporis Skyscraper of the Year; the SOS Lavezzorio Community Center, an award-winning building designed using donated materials; and the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo, an educational pavilion and landscape that also function as stormwater infrastructure. In 2009 she was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.


Joe Zucker

A Chicago-born SAIC alumnus whose work has been featured in the Whitney Biennial three times and the Venice Biennale twice, Joe Zucker (BFA 1964, MFA 1966) has since the 1960s been creating paintings, mixed media works, and prints and drawings that combine innovative materials and processes with brainy, provocative, and timely content. One of the most unique aspects of Zucker's work is its indivisible affiliation between medium and message. The artist generates the subject matter of his art from the material substances with which he works, an approach made most memorable perhaps in Zucker's "cotton ball paintings" of the early 1970s with their narrative images of plantation life in the American south. Zucker attended SAIC, receiving his BFA in 1964 and his MFA in 1966. His work is represented by the Mary Boone Gallery, New York.


2012 Honorary Doctorates and Commencement Speakers

Internationally acclaimed American painter and sculptor Eric Fischl delivered the commencement address to the 2012 graduating class of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) on Sunday, May 13, at the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavillion in Chicago's Millennium Park. Along with philanthropist and civil rights activist Beatrice "Buddy" Mayer and world-renowned cartoonist Gahan Wilson (SAIC BFA 1952), Fischl received an honorary doctorate from SAIC to recognize his achievements and commitment to the arts.


Eric Fischl Photo by April Gornik courtesy of the artist.

Eric Fischl

Eric Fischl's (b. 1948) work is represented in such prestigious museums as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Whitney Museum of American Art. The artist is a Fellow at both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Science. A New York City native, Fischl has lived in different cities across the country over the years, including Chicago, where he worked as a security guard at the Museum of Contemporary Art in the1970s and was exposed to the bizarre and provocative works of SAIC alumni Ed Paschke (BFA 1961, MFA 1970) and Jim Nutt (BFA 1967). The newest exhibition of Fisch's work opened February 11 at Mary Boone Gallery, New York City.

Read the press release [PDF].

Listen to his commencement address on Vimeo.


Beatrice "Buddy" Mayer

Beatrice "Buddy" Mayer

Beatrice "Buddy" Mayer (b. 1921) has dedicated her life to supporting philanthropic causes and the power of art in education as a generator of change. Mayer is president of the Robert & Beatrice C. Mayer Foundation, trustee emeritus of the Nathan Cummings Foundation and Kenyon College, and a life trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art. She also sits on the University of Chicago's Social Services Administration (SSA) Visiting Committee. Mayer holds three honorary doctorates and has received countless awards for her selfless work on behalf of social welfare, health education, and the arts.


Gahan Wilson

Gahan Wilson

Gahan Wilson (b. 1930 in Evanston, IL) is a cartoonist for theNational LampoonPlayboy, and the New Yorker and former president of the Cartoonists Guild. He is known for his cartoons depicting horror-fantasy situations and is often compared to Charles Addams and Edward Gorey. In 2005, Wilson was recognized with Lifetime Achievement from the World Fantasy Awards. He received the World Fantasy Convention Award in 1981 and the National Cartoonists Society's Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Wilson is married to the author Nancy Winters (née Nancy Dee Midyette) and resides in Sag Harbor, Long Island. His mother, Rose Marion Gahan, also attended SAIC (1912–15) and studied illustration, lettering, modeling, history of painting and sculpture, and perspective.


2011 Honorary Doctorates and Commencement Speakers


Patti Smith Patti Smith, 2007 © Edward Mapplethorpe

Patti Smith

The body of work produced by American artist Patti Smith has influenced generations; across disciplines and around the world. A poet, singer, songwriter, photographer, and visual artist, Smith came into her own in the nascent cultural hotbed of mid-70s New York City as she merged poetry and rock in vital new ways. Her 1975 debut album, Horses, is routinely ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time. In 2007 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2010 she won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction for Just Kids, a bestselling memoir about her early days in New York when she met, and made art with, her friend Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith also has honorary doctorate degrees from Rowan University and Pratt Institute.


Tony Jones, CBE

Tony Jones, CBE

Tony Jones is an internationally known arts administrator, broadcaster, writer, educator, and historian of art, architecture, and design; and is Chancellor of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Born in Great Britain, he received his MFA from Tulane University, New Orleans, as a postgraduate Fulbright Scholar. Returning to Britain he taught sculpture there before being appointed Chair of the Department of Art at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. He served as Director of the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, then as President of SAIC from 1986 to 1992. From 1992 to 1997 he was Director of the Royal College of Art in London, and in 1997 returned to SAIC, where he served again as President until becoming Chancellor in 2008. Professor Jones was conferred the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, was awarded the Knight’s Cross of Austria for services to education in Europe, and has received six honorary doctorate degrees from leading arts universities in Britain, Europe, the U.S., and Asia.

View the video.


Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Born in Bangkok and raised in Khon Kaen in northeastern Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (MFA 1998) began making film and video shorts in 1994, completing his first feature in 2000. Often using unconventional narrative structures to address dislocation, personal politics, social issues, and memory, his films and art projects have won him international acclaim, including the Knight of the Order of Arts and Literature from Thailand’s Ministry of Culture, the Slipatorn Award, and the Fine Prize from the 55th Carnegie International. His feature film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, won the Palme d’Or prize at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival in 2010, making it the first Southeast Asian film to win cinema’s most prestigious award.

View the video.


2010 Commencement Speaker

Käthe Kollwitz, artist, activist, and co-founder of the Guerilla Girls. View Käthe Kollwitz’s commencement address.

Honorary Doctorates

Ellsworth Kelly, Artist

Sung Soon Lee, Artist and SAIC alumnus (BFA 1978)

Past commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients

Renzo Piano, Eleanor Antin, Charles A. Harrison II, Jerry Saltz, Carol Becker, Herbert Kawainui Kane, Jeff Koons, Alfredo Jaar, Mayor Richard M. Daley, Margaret C. Daley, Ellen Lanyon, Bruce Mau, Elizabeth Catlett, LeRoy Neiman, Ann Hamilton, Vito Acconci, David Sedaris, Philip Glass, Ed Harris, Yoko Ono, and Bill Viola.