President Bassett's honorary degree makes history at WPI graduation

There will be more than the usual pomp and circumstance this graduation season for Clark University President John Bassett, who received an honorary doctorate degree at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s 142nd commencement exercises on May 15.  The occasion marked the first-ever Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters bestowed in WPI’s history, conferred upon President Bassett “for his distinguished record of academic leadership and for the inspiring example he has set for all those who wish to make this world a better place.” 

A video of President Bassett receiving the honorary degree and of his remarks is available online.

President Bassett laughed heartily as presenter Kristin Boudreau, professor and head of the Humanities and Arts department at WPI, noted that “an unprecedented run of success by New England’s sports teams—including three Super Bowls, two World Series, and one NBA Championship—also happened to coincide with his arrival in the Bay State.”

Until President Bassett’s honor, WPI had issued only Honorary Doctorates of Science or Engineering. In 2006, the WPI Board of Trustees approved the addition of the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. There are two BA programs, currently: Environmental Studies and Liberal Arts and Engineering. The first student to receive a BA (in environmental studies) graduated in 2009. In keeping with that change, WPI decided the time had come to confer the Doctor of Humane Letters during commencement exercises, selecting Bassett for the honor. 

“In November 2009, Bassett was named the second president of Heritage University in Toppenish, Washington—3,000 miles and in many respects a world away from Worcester and the University he has loved and led with distinction for more than 10 years,” Boudreau said as she introduced President Bassett. “What changed his mind? An enduring commitment, expressed in his own advice to Clark’s graduating classes, ‘to make a difference, to make the world a better place for our neighbors and for ourselves.’ ”

Others who received honorary doctorate degrees at WPI are former Red Sox pitcher and World Series champion Curt Schilling, MIT materials scientist Angela Belcher, and NYPRO Chairman Gordon Lankton. Schilling, who retired from the Red Sox in 2009 after 22 years in the Major League, is also founder and chairman of 38 Studios, a game development company in Maynard, Mass. He delivered the Commencement address.

Clark University’s 105th Commencement exercise will take place on Sunday, May 23. Richard F. Celeste, president of Colorado College, will deliver the Commencement address. Celeste served as the U.S. ambassador to India and served two terms as governor of Ohio.

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