Exterior shot of a pink SAIC flag at the MacLean Center entrance.

Honorary Degrees

Honorary Degrees

The honorary degree is a tradition that dates back to the late 15th century at the University of Oxford. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has itself granted honorary doctorates since at least 1938, and we are immensely proud of the remarkable group of individuals we have recognized with this distinction over the years. 

Recipients of an honorary degree from SAIC generally fall into one of two categories. First are individuals whose achievements are closely aligned with our institutional mission as a leading school of art and design, and/or who have exceptionally strong ties to our community. In years past, honorees have included Jeff Koons (SAIC 1975–76), Frank Gehry, Jeanne Gang, and Marina Abramović. Second are individuals whose primary achievements merit recognition in terms of their major contributions to the cultural landscape. In recent years, this has included notable figures in politics (Mayor Richard Daley), theater (Anna Deavere Smith), acting (Ed Harris), experimental music composition (Philip Glass), and popular music (Patti Smith). These individuals have each approached their work with extraordinary creativity and in ways that befit our school’s ideals of interdisciplinary exploration, innovation, and experimentation.

2024 Honorary Doctorate Recipients

a black-and-white headshot of An-my Lê

An-My Lê

An-My Lê is an internationally renowned photographer primarily based in New York. As a teenager in 1975, however, Lê fled Vietnam with her family, and they eventually settled in the United States as refugees. Her work often addresses the impact of war on culture and on the environment, and she has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the MacArthur Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, and Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation award. Her work has also been exhibited widely, including in the Whitney Biennial and Taipei Biennial as well as the Minneapolis Institute of Art; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Tate Modern, London. Most recently, Between Two Rivers/Giữa hai giòng sông/Entre deux rivières, a 30-year survey of her career, including her forays into film, textiles, and installation was presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Lê is currently the Charles Franklin Kellogg and Grace E. Ramsey Kellogg Professor in the Arts at Bard College, New York.

a black and white headshot of Sanford Biggers

Image credit: Justin Lubke

Sanford Biggers

Sanford Biggers (MFA 1999) is a New York-based interdisciplinary conceptual artist who works in sculpture, painting, installation, textiles, sound, video, and performance. His work is an interplay of narrative, perspective, and history that speaks to current social, political, and economic happenings while examining the contexts that bore them. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including Morehouse College’s Bennie Trailblazer Award, the Guggenheim Fellowship, Heinz Award for the Arts, American Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and the Rome Prize in Visual Arts; additionally he has been inducted into the New York Foundation for the Arts Hall of Fame and as a National Academician by the National Academy of Design. Biggers’s work is held in the permanent collections of the Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, among others. Biggers was also a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professor and Scholar in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Architecture and has served as an associate professor of Sculpture and New Genres of Visual Arts at Columbia University.

Past Commencement Speakers

    • 2024: An-My Lê
    • 2023: Sonya Clark (BFA 1993)
    • 2022: Angelique Power (MFA 1998)
    • 2021: Howardena Pindell
    • 2020: Mel Chin

    • 2019: Mierle Laderman Ukeles
    • 2018: Judy Chicago
    • 2017: Kerry James Marshall
    • 2016: Tania Bruguera (MFA 2001)
    • 2015: Albert Oehlen
    • 2014: Theaster Gates
    • 2013: Anna Deavere Smith
    • 2012: Eric Fischl
    • 2011: Patti Smith
    • 2010: Käthe Kollwitz of the Guerilla Girls

    • 2009: Renzo Piano
    • 2008: Jerry Saltz (SAIC 1970-75)
    • 2007: Alfredo Jaar
    • 2006: Bruce Mau
    • 2005: Ann Hamilton
    • 2004: Marina Abramovic
    • 2003: Lucy Lippard
    • 2002: Michael Brenson
    • 2001: Paul Miller (DJ Spooky)
    • 2000: Philip Glass

    • 1999: James Turrell
    • 1998: Bill T. Jones
    • 1997: Bill Viola
    • 1996: Tony Kushner
    • 1995: David Sedaris (BFA 1987)
    • 1994: Marcia Tucker
    • 1993: Miriam Schapiro
    • 1992: Robert Storr (MFA 1978)
    • 1991: Tim Rollins and the Kids of Survival
    • 1990: Vito Acconci

    • 1989: Ronne Hartfield
    • 1986: John David Mooney