Meet the 2024 Honorary Degree Recipients

Five leaders and pioneers will be honored for their service to the world

2024 honorary degree recipients: Rhiannon Giddens, Desmond Meade, Claudius “C.B.” Claiborne, Rose Marcario, and Jerry Seinfeld.

Now in his fifth decade as a stand-up comedian, Seinfeld is best known for playing a fictionalized version of himself in the eponymous sitcom he cocreated with Larry David for NBC. Seinfeld aired for nine seasons and 180 episodes between 1989 and 1998 and was the most-watched show in America at various points during its run. It is often cited as one of the best and most influential television comedy series ever made, and Seinfeld won an Emmy and a Golden Globe award for his acting on the show.

Seinfeld graduated from Queens College, City University of New York with a degree in communications and theater in 1976. His career has included numerous stand-up specials and documentaries. His interview series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which featured Seinfeld interviewing fellow comedians and other public figures while driving to get coffee, ended in 2019 after 11 seasons.

I am delighted that Jerry Seinfeld will be our 2024 commencement speaker. Jerry is a pioneering entertainer and producer and a gifted observer of human nature who has an extraordinary ability to bring people together through humor. I look forward to the insights and wisdom he will share during our celebration of the Class of 2024.

Duke University President Vincent E. Price

Seinfeld was unveiled as speaker in the video above, shown during Saturday’s men’s basketball game. Seinfeld and his wife, Jessica, are the parents of a Duke alumna and a current Duke student, and serve as national chairs of Duke’s Parents Committee. In 2001, Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld founded the Good+Foundation, a charitable organization focused on addressing family poverty.

Jerry Seinfeld

Duke will award five honorary degrees at commencement this year. Duke has awarded honorary degrees throughout its history in recognition of extraordinary accomplishment and dedication to improving society. A complete list of past recipients is available on the honorary degree website.

“Each of our honorary degree recipients has had a profound influence on society,” said Price. “Through their many noteworthy achievements, they have demonstrated the power of the arts, business, and civic engagement to bring about positive change and advance humankind, and I’m confident their examples will serve as powerful inspiration for our graduates.”

Seinfeld will receive an honorary Doctor of Arts degree. Read more about the additional 2024 honorary degree recipients below.

Claudius “C.B.” Claiborne B.S.E.’69, Doctor of Humane Letters

Duke University’s first Black student-athlete used the challenges he faced on the basketball court and in the classroom to inform his work as a distinguished scholar and teacher of teamwork and leadership.

The Danville, Va., native arrived at Duke on a presidential scholarship in 1965, just two years after the first Black undergraduate students enrolled. After a year on the freshman basketball team, he played the following three seasons on the men’s varsity team. Claiborne also joined the Black Student Alliance and took part in the pivotal 1969 Allen Building sit-in.

Claiborne graduated from Duke in 1969 with a BSE degree in engineering and later earned advanced degrees from Dartmouth College, Washington University and Virginia Polytechnic University. He is currently Professor of Business and Marketing in the Jesse H. Jones School of Business at Texas Southern University, has published widely and has received numerous awards for his research and teaching on leadership, including the Apple Distinguished Educator, Fulbright Scholarship and Coors Eminent Scholar.

Since graduating from Duke, Claiborne has returned several times to discuss issues of race, athletics and campus culture, taking part in a panel sponsored by the faculty-led initiative, “Black in Blue: The Duke Sports & Race Project.” Students in a Bass Connections project are currently making a documentary exploring the history of race and sports at Duke through the lens of Claiborne’s story.

C.B. Claiborne headshot

Claudius “C.B.” Claiborne

Watch: Duke basketball pays tribute to C.B. Claiborne

Read: Claiborne’s Journey Helped Transform Duke Basketball (GoDuke)

Rhiannon Giddens, Doctor of Arts

Every song by Rhiannon Giddens gives voice to a powerful musical history and culture that is now bursting into greater public consciousness. The Greensboro native, MacArthur Fellow and winner of two Grammy Awards can currently be heard playing the banjo on Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em,” which made history as the first song by a Black woman to top Billboard’s Country Music Song chart. The song and its critical acclaim are shining a new light on a longtime priority for Giddens – lifting up a more accurate understanding of the origins of American music.

A co-founder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Giddens studied with the legendary string band elder Joe Thompson. Like Thompson, the group played blues, jug-band numbers and other Americana styles, influencing many Black musicians to take up the fiddle, banjo and other traditional instruments.

An alumna of the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, and a 2000 graduate of Oberlin Conservatory at Oberlin College, where she studied opera, Giddens also co-wrote the recent opera “Omar,” which won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in music. It is based on the autobiography of Omar ibn Said, a 19th century West African Muslim scholar enslaved and brought to North Carolina.

Giddens first came to campus in 2007 with the Carolina Chocolate Drops for a Duke Performances concert. She has returned several times, most recently last year for a conversation with music professor Anthony Kelley about her music and her career.

Watch: Rhiannon Giddens: NPR Tiny Desk Concert

Rhiannon Giddens

Rose Marcario, Doctor of Humane Letters 

As CEO and Board Member of Patagonia, Inc., Rose Marcario showed that profits can be congruent with strong environmental practices and activism and was an example of how business leaders can take effective stands on social issues.

Marcario joined the company in 2008 as chief financial officer and chief operating officer after a career in finance and operations. In the next 12 years, Patagonia’s profits quadrupled and its sales surpassed a billion. At the same time, the company became a corporate leader in responsible business and environmental and workplace innovation. Promoted to CEO in 2013, Marcario’s achievements include launching a digital platform connecting customers with environmental causes, creating a regenerative organic food company and industry-wide certification, creating a venture fund focused on sustainable product developments and supply chain transformation, using her voice to influence society and governments and advocating for a healthy planet, democracy, and working families. 

Her concern with supply chain issues was more than a financial issue; in a public interview at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business in 2016, Marcario said her efforts were part of an intentional effort to strengthen the company by addressing climate change through developing sustainable business practices.

“We're not living in a world anymore where you can just keep making new stuff and using it up,” she said. “I think the companies that can get ahead of that and start creating those (sustainable) supply chains and creating that infrastructure will be ahead of the curve.”

Rose Marcario

Marcario is also a supporter of workplace child care. Under her leadership, 100 percent of working mothers returned to work at Patagonia after giving birth, allowing many to rise in company leadership.  She is also the founder of Time to Vote, an initiative to allow employees time off to vote. She stepped down from the company in 2020.

Watch: Rose Marcario addresses business activism addressing climate change at the 2018 Expo West.

Desmond Meade, Doctor of Laws 

In October 2020, at age 53, Desmond Meade cast his first-ever ballot in a presidential election. That vote came after a remarkable victory not just for him but for tens of thousands of formerly incarcerated people in Florida whose past felony convictions had barred them from voting under state law.

Meade was homeless and squatting in a home in 2001 when police arrested him for possession of a firearm in the house that didn’t belong to him. In prison, he studied law books, appealed his conviction and was released after three years.

After his release, Meade started to rebuild his life while living in a shelter. He graduated summa cum laude from Miami Dade Community College and earned his J.D. at Florida International University College of Law. While working toward his degrees, he joined the grassroots organization Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC). In 2009 he became the coalition’s executive director.

Under his leadership, FRRC successfully campaigned in 2018 to pass a state constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to returning citizens with a felony conviction. When state leaders enacted financial obstacles that threatened to prolong disenfranchisement for 700,000 people, Meade led a fund-raising campaign to pay off court debts for the affected individuals and encouraged other returning citizens to become civically engaged. FRRC estimated its effort allowed over 100,000 people with past felony convictions to vote in the 2020 election.

Desmond Meade

A MacArthur Fellow, a Ford Global Fellow, and recognized by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, Meade has become a powerful advocate for civic participation: “I believe that everybody deserves a second chance at redemption, and democracy is stronger when it fully represents everyone,” Meade said. This is why under his leadership, Desmond’s organization, FRRC, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2023.

At Duke’s commencement in 2021, speaker John Legend told Meade’s story. Legend received an honorary degree from Duke that day. Three years later, it will be Meade’s turn to be honored. 

Watch: Desmond Meade discusses his activism in a video for the MacArthur Fellowship