Graduating Without Taking the Core Curriculum
Updated: Sep 4
Columbia continues age-old tradition of awarding fake degrees
By Zoe Dansdill
1. Alexander Hamilton
The first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury still stands in front of his namesake Hamilton Hall as one of Columbia’s most famous alumni. After entering what was then King’s College in 1774, Alexander Hamilton later worked to revive King’s College as Columbia College, and was awarded an Honorary Degree of Master of Arts in 1788, and served as a trustee of the College until his death in 1804.
2. Abraham Lincoln
In the months preceding the start of the Civil War, the new President of the United States was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by President King of Columbia. Preoccupied with a fractious country and stirring conflict, Abraham Lincoln was unable to attend the Commencement service in New York to receive his award, but a Columbia professor was sent to Washington to hand-deliver it.
3. Queen Juliana of the Netherlands
Queen Juliana of the Netherlands was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws in the Commencement service of 1952. During her 32-year reign, Queen Juliana oversaw the independence of Indonesia and Suriname. She also endeared herself to the public for doing plebeian things like going to the supermarket and sending her kids to public school.
4. Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
You may know Queen Elizabeth II as the Queen of England and the British Commonwealth, but a lesser-known fact is that she was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws from Columbia University in 1954. As of 2015, her Majesty is the longest reigning British monarch in history.
5. Toni Morrison
Besides being a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Toni Morrison was awarded a Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters in 1984, five years after being awarded the Barnard Medal of Distinction. In 2015, Morrison was added to the LitHum syllabus, the first black author to be included.
6. 14th Dalai Lama– Tenzin Gyatso
The 14th Dalai Lama, self-described “simple Buddhist monk,” was also a recipient of an Honorary
Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters in 1994. The Dalai Lama began his monastic education at age six, and took on full temporal duties at 15.
7. Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s seven autobiographies, poetry, and Civil Rights work were recognized by Columbia in 2003 with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters. Angelou moved to Harlem and joined the Harlem Writers Guild in the 1950s. She was a contemporary of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and remained vocal about racism and identity throughout her life.
8. Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn was a vision on the silver screen for close to 60 years. Hepburn won four Academy Awards for Best Actress out of a total of 12 nominations, a number only surpassed by Meryl Streep. She was awarded a Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters in 1992. Ms. Hepburn frequented Mondel Chocolates on 114th and Broadway for years, calling them, “The best chocolates in the world.”
9. Enrico Fermi
While Enrico Fermi does not have a degree in Nuclear Physics from Columbia University, the “Architect of the Nuclear Age and Atomic Bomb” does have an Honorary Doctor of Science from the University. Fermi received the award in 1946, nearly a year after the dropping of the Atomic Bomb.
10. Georgia O’Keeffe
The “Mother of American Modernism”, Georgia O’Keeffe will be familiar to almost every Art History major. O’Keeffe was best known for her paintings of Western landscapes, as well as enlarged flowers with subtle hints of female form. In 1971, O’Keeffe was given an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
11. Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel García Márquez is known as one of the most significant authors of the 20th century, and one of the founding voices of magical realism. Hailing from the other Colombia, Márquez was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters in 1971.