Honorary Degrees for Michael R. Bloomberg and Other Luminaries

It’s diploma season again, which means not only that a new batch of students will soon be facing the reality of the workplace but also that universities will be handing out honorary degrees. A look at several honorees — and how they earned their doctorates.

Michael R. Bloomberg
New York City mayor and Bloomberg founder
Doctor of Laws: University of Pennsylvania


Non-Honorary Degrees: BA in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins, MBA from Harvard

Qualifications: He built a huge media business, then brought his pragmatism to City Hall. But maybe he should be a Doctor of Interior Design: He also introduced a now-much-copied open-floor office plan similar to the one used at Bloomberg.

David Neeleman
JetBlue founder
Doctor of Business: University of Utah


Non-Honorary Degrees: None. Dropped out of Utah after three years

Qualifications: Born in Brazil, Neeleman returned there as a 19-year-old for a Mormon mission and won 200 converts in the slums of Rio. Last year, he used his persuasive powers to assuage JetBlue fliers after more than 1,000 flights were canceled in five days in February — but still lost his CEO job.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Doctor of Science University of Pennsylvania


Non-Honorary Degrees: BA in physics from Harvard, PhD in astrophysics from Columbia

Qualifications: Named Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive by People in 2000. Tyson, the director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, led the push to downgrade Pluto’s planetary status, forcing millions of people to edit the mnemonic “My very elegant mother just sat upon nine porcupines.”

Mark Dean
Holder of three of the nine original IBM PC patents
Doctor of Science Wheaton College


Non-Honorary Degrees: BS from Tennessee, MS from Florida Atlantic, PhD from Stanford, all in electrical engineering

Qualifications: All the black kids shared one room in his segregated school, so he learned fourth-grade math in first grade. After desegregation, he was bored. He once said, “I couldn’t read worth a darn, but all I cared about was math anyway.”

Sheila E. Widnall
Doctor of Science: Oxford, Northwestern, and Claremont Graduate Univ


Non-Honorary Degrees: BS, MS, and ScD from MIT in aeronautics/astronautics

Qualifications: Lots. The first woman to head a branch of the U.S. military (the Air Force), she already has 12 honorary degrees. She tells Fast Company: “I’m particularly proud that my mother was a juvenile probation officer and my father a rodeo cowboy — both good role models.”