Bryson will attend May 13 Graduate College commencement ceremony
Monday, May 9, 2016

Best-selling author William “Bill” Bryson will receive an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Iowa on Friday, May 13. Bryson’s degree will be conferred during the Graduate College ceremony at 7 p.m. in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, at which time he will deliver the commencement address to students.

A native of Des Moines, Bryson is the author of 21 nonfiction books and has long been a champion of writing, literature, and the sciences in higher education. He served as the chancellor of Durham University in England from 2005 to 2011 and has received numerous honorary degrees.

"I could hardly imagine a greater or more meaningful honor for me than this one,” Bryson says of the honorary degree from UI. “Iowa will always be home to me, even though I have lived away for almost 40 years." 

Bryson was nominated by Chaden Djalali, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences; James Leach, visiting professor of law; Jonathan Wilcox, professor of English and departmental chair; Lan Samantha Chang, professor and program director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; and John Kenyon, executive director of Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.

“Although not a University of Iowa graduate, Mr. Bryson has demonstrated a creative passion for literature and writing along with an outstanding record of higher education leadership,” Dean Djalali wrote in his recommendation. “It would be an honor to both him and the University of Iowa to confer a University of Iowa Honorary Degree.”

Leach, a former U.S. congressman and visiting professor in the College of Law, said Bryson has “a truly gifted capacity” to effectively write about a broad spectrum of topics.

“Awarding him an honorary degree would be consistent with the university’s commitment both to writing and to science where his books, one designed specifically for children, provide inspirational perspective on scientific inquiry,” Leach wrote.

Bryson is most known for The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a memoir about growing up in Des Moines; A Short History of Nearly Everything; The Lost Continent; Neither Here Nor There; Notes From a Small Island; and A Walk in the Woods, which became a major film starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, and Emma Thompson.

Bryson's newest book, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island, was released in the fall of 2015.

While in Iowa City, Bryson will participate in additional events, such as a roundtable discussion with members of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a special meeting with the Iowa Youth Writing Project.

UI honorary degrees

Bill Bryson will receive the 33rd honorary degree awarded by UI since 1962. Past recipients include: 

  • Earl Warren, chief justice of the United States, 1962 
  • Dr. Richard E. Shope, the physician who discovered the virus associated with the 1918 influenza pandemic, 1963
  • Lewis L. Strauss, an American financier and chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, 1963
  • W. Willard Wirtz, U.S. secretary of labor, 1965
  • Walter P. Reuther, American labor union leader, 1966
  • George H. Gallup, American public opinion statistician and originator of the Gallup poll, 1967
  • Edward H. Levi, U.S. attorney general, 1968
  • Marquis W. Childs, American journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, 1969
  • Willard “Sandy” Boyd, president emeritus of the University of Iowa and professor of law, 1981
  • Dr. Ignacio Ponseti, UI orthopedic surgeon world-renowned for his treatment of clubfoot, 2007
  • Marvin Pomerantz, philanthropist, 2007
  • Robert M. Solow, winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, 2008
  • Orhan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, 2008
  • Himie Voxman, clarinet legend and former director of the UI School of Music, 2008
  • Johan Hultin, noted pathologist known for discovering tissues containing traces of the 1918 influenza virus that killed millions worldwide, 2009
  • Henry B. Tippie, businessman and UI benefactor, 2009
  • John Pappajohn, entrepreneur and UI benefactor, 2010 
  • Gregs Thomopulos, CEO and chairman of the board of directors of Stanley Consultants, Inc., 2010
  • C. Vivian Stringer, former UI women’s basketball coach, 2010
  • Robart Hass, Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate, 2010
  • Tom Brokaw, television journalist and author, 2010
  • Arthur Neu, former state senator, 2010
  • Gene Wilder, actor, 2011
  • Richard Myers, former member of the Iowa House of Representatives, 2011
  • Jerre Stead, UI benefactor, 2011
  • Stanley F. Redeker, former president of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, 2012
  • Robert Osterhaus, former member of the Iowa House of Representatives, 2012
  • Robert D. Ray, former governor of Iowa, 2012
  • Mary Louise Petersen, former president of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, 2013
  • John W. Colloton, former CEO of UI Hospitals and Clinics, 2013
  • Manny Villifana, biomedical device developer, 2014
  • Leonard Hadley, former CEO and chairman of Maytag, 2014