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Marian Wright Edelman

UT will award its ninth and tenth honorary degrees to social activist Marian Wright Edelman and actress Dale Dickey.

The UT Board of Trustees approved the two degrees on Thursday.

Edelman, who has strong ties to the East Tennessee area, will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters and speak at the College of Communication and Information commencement at 8:30 a.m. on May 8. Dickey, a Knoxville native and UT alumna, will receive an Honorary Master of Fine Arts in acting during a campus visit next year.

Edelman is the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization that tries to ensure a level playing field for all children. Since 1994, the organization has been headquartered at the Alex Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee.

“Marian Wright Edelman has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. Her groundbreaking work has created decades of positive change for society and improved the lives of generations of Americans,” Ed Cortez, director of the School of Information Sciences, wrote in his letter nominating Edelman for the honor.

Edelman began her career as director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and was the first woman elected to the Yale University Corporation. She served on the board of trustees for Spelman College, her alma mater. She has received more than 100 honorary degrees and many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Edelman serves on the board of directors for the Robin Hood Foundation and the Association to Benefit Children. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

Dale Dickey

Dickey has been featured in several long-running television series, including My Name is Earl, True Blood, Breaking Bad, and Christy, and numerous movies, including The Pledge, Being Flynn, Iron Man 3, and Winter’s Bone. She has worked alongside some of the most accomplished actors in the film industry including Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Barbara Streisand, and Robert Downey Jr.

Dickey won the Independent Spirit Award—akin to the Oscars for independent films— for Best Supporting Female for her role in Winter’s Bone.

She has maintained her ties to the university and has returned to the Clarence Brown Theatre on multiple occasions to work directly with students and star in several productions, including Rain Man, Steel Magnolias, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Sweeney Todd. In 2010, she received a Distinguished Alumna Award in recognition of her service to her alma mater.

“Ms. Dickey has always claimed the University of Tennessee in her biography, and has made a long practice of returning to work with our students when her busy career allows her,” Cal MacLean, head of the Department of Theatre, wrote in nominating Dickey for the honor.

“Ms. Dickey is a remarkable asset to the university and to the Department of Theatre,” he wrote. “The importance of our relationships with working professional actors, directors, and designers cannot be overstated; they are essential to our mission. That one of our alums is not only ‘the real deal’ in our profession, but is also such an outstanding mentor and role model to our students, makes her an asset of incalculable value. The teaching that I witnessed during rehearsals of Streetcar and Sweeney Todd cannot be overstated. Everyone in our department, students and faculty, wants to work sometime with Dale Dickey.”


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,