A crowd of graduates in Wallace Wade stadium

Meet the 2023 Commencement Speaker, Honorary Degree Recipients

Four leaders and innovators to receive honorary degrees

Adam Silver

Adam Silver

Commencement Speaker

“I am thrilled to welcome Adam Silver back to Duke as our commencement speaker,” said Duke University President Vincent E. Price. “Adam is not only a visionary global leader in sports and business; he is also a committed Blue Devil who loves and continues to serve the Duke University community—including as a member of the Board of Trustees and adviser to me. I am certain that he will inspire our graduates and their families and offer the Class of 2023 a fittingly triumphant sendoff.”

The announcement was made with a playful video shown at Tuesday’s men’s basketball game.

Also at commencement, Duke will present honorary degrees to four individuals who have made distinguished contributions to the arts, environmental sciences, and social justice.

Duke has awarded honorary degrees for more than 150 years in recognition of extraordinary accomplishment and dedication to the highest ideals. A complete list of recipients dating back to the 1920s is available on the honorary degree website.

“It will be my honor to present honorary degrees to these four outstanding leaders,” Price said. “Each one has made creative and innovative contributions that have redefined their fields. As our graduates contemplate their paths after Duke, they will be inspired by the ways these honorary degree recipients have directed their talents and energies in service to the world.”

Meet Duke’s 2023 honorary degree recipients below.

Branford Marsalis is an award-winning saxophonist, band leader, featured classical soloist, and a composer for film, television and Broadway. He has won three Grammys and was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. Best known for the influential Branford Marsalis Quartet, which he founded in 1986, Marsalis is also frequently sought as a featured soloist with classical orchestras around the world—and beloved for his innovative collaborations with Sting and the Grateful Dead.

Marsalis’s musical contributions have extended to theater, TV and film. His compositions for acclaimed Broadway revivals garnered Drama Desk Award and Tony nominations, and he received an Emmy nomination for his music for the History Channel documentary “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre.” He also composed original music for Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues,” “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which starred Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman.

For the last 20 years, Marsalis has lived in Durham, where he has taught at North Carolina Central University and has had a long partnership with Duke Performances.

Listen to a Branford Marsalis playlist on Spotify.

Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis

Doctor of Arts

Deborah Rutter

Deborah Rutter

Doctor of Arts

President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Deborah Rutter is one of the leading voices in arts administration today. As leader of the national cultural center, Rutter oversees programming across all genres, as well as a global network of education initiatives. In 2019 Rutter opened the REACH — the first expansion of the center‘s campus designed to bring audiences into the artistic process — setting the stage for a dynamic era of growth. She has expanded programming to fully represent the diversity of art in America, and introduced social impact and wellness programs across communities. Rutter sits on the board of Vital Voices, is a member of the board of directors of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and served as co-chair of its Commission on the Arts. In recognition of her advocacy for the role art plays in diplomacy she was one of the inaugural recipients of the European Union’s Transatlantic Bridge Award in 2022. 

Before her tenure at the Kennedy Center, Rutter held executive leadership roles with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, the Seattle Symphony, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. 

Rutter is a graduate of Stanford University and holds an M.B.A. from the University of Southern California. Her daughter graduated from Duke in 2020. 

Watch: Deborah Rutter interviews composer John Williams.

Widely recognized as a leader in the field of atmospheric science, Susan Solomon is the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her scientific papers have provided key data and theoretical understanding regarding ozone destruction. In the 1980s, she led research in Antarctica that resulted in some of the first measurements that pointed towards chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as the cause of the ozone hole, and an Antarctic glacier was later named in her honor.

Solomon was one of the leaders of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, together with former Vice President Al Gore.  

Solomon’s many honors and awards include the National Medal of Science, the United States’ highest scientific honor. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Solomon was named one of the year’s 100 most influential people in TIME magazine in 2008.

Solomon earned her B.S. from the Illinois Institute of Technology and her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, both in chemistry.

Watch: Susan Solomon on saving the Ozone layer.

Susan Solomon

Susan Solomon

Doctor of Science

Darren Walker

Darren Walker

Doctor of Humane Letters

Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the U.S. with an endowment of $16 billion. An international organization focused on social justice, the Ford Foundation invests in civil rights, education, arts and culture, human rights, poverty reduction and urban development. Before joining the Ford Foundation, Walker was vice president at The Rockefeller Foundation. In the 1990s, as COO of the Abyssinian Development Corporation—Harlem’s largest community development organization—Walker led a comprehensive revitalization strategy, including building over 1,000 units of affordable housing.

Walker serves on the boards of the National Gallery of Art, Carnegie Hall, the High Line, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. He has been included on TIME’s annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World and was named a 2020 Philanthropy Innovator by The Wall Street Journal.

A member of the first class of Head Start in 1965, Walker earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from The University of Texas at Austin.

Watch: Darren Walker on “60 Minutes” about changing how philanthropy works.