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UT will award an honorary degree to a national advocate for children and welcome leaders in business, healthcare, and government for spring commencement ceremonies set for May 6–8.

Marian Wright Edelman will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at the College of Communication and Information ceremony set for 8:30 a.m. Friday, May 8, at Thompson-Boling Arena.

More than 4,900 undergraduates and graduates will participate in ceremonies, which include students who are completing their degrees this spring and summer.

Graduates and their guests can park free in any student parking lot (marked C or N) across campus. Guests should avoid parking in staff lots (marked S). The G-10 garage is the closest to Thompson-Boling Arena and can be accessed from both Neyland Drive and Phillip Fulmer Way. Accessible parking is available in the G-10 garage as well as area student lots.

Edelman will be the ninth person to receive an honorary degree from the university. She is the founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, headquartered at the Alex Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee. Her life’s work has focused on advocating for disadvantaged people, particularly children.

After becoming the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi bar, she began practicing with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Mississippi.

In 1973, she founded the Children’s Defense Fund which has become an international voice for children on issues of foster care, adoption, child care, and the support and services for children who are disabled, homeless, abused, or neglected.

All spring ceremonies will be held at Thompson-Boling Arena. Each will be webcast to watch live and via archive.

Below is a list of the ceremonies, speakers and webcast links.


Wednesday, May 6

8:30 a.m. College of Nursing

Speaker is alumnus Janice McKinley, senior vice president of the Knoxville-based Covenant Health.


11:30 a.m. College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Speaker is alumna Jerri Marr, assistant director for Recreation, Business, Heritage, and Volunteer Resources, USDA Forest Service.


2:30 p.m. College of Architecture and Design Hooding

Speaker is alumnus Bob Oglesby, commissioner of the Department of General Services, State of Tennessee.


6:00 p.m. College of Social Work

Ceremony will feature student speakers.


Thursday, May 7

9:00 a.m. Graduate Hooding

Speaker is Jeneen Abrams, who is receiving her PhD in plant breeding and genetics.


1:00 p.m. College of Arts and Sciences

Speaker is alumna Thelma Ferguson, regional head of Northeast Middle Market Banking and Specialized Industries for JP Morgan Chase.


5:30 p.m. Haslam College of Business

Speaker is alumnus James A. Haslam II, founder of the Pilot Corp.


Friday, May 8

8:30 a.m. College of Communication and Information

Speaker and honorary degree recipient is Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund.


11:30 a.m. College of Law

Speaker is Doug Blaze, the Art Stolnitz and Elvin Overston Distinguished Professor of Law and dean.


3:00 p.m. College of Engineering

Speaker is alumnus Kenneth Huntsman, co-founder of Quantum Computer Service, which later became AOL, Inc.


6:00 p.m. College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences

Speaker is alumnus Buzz Thomas, president of the Great Schools Partnership.



Karen Simsen (865-974-5186,