Meet the 2024 commencement ceremony honorary degree recipients

<p>Top left: Rhiannon Giddens. Top right: Rose Marcario. Bottom left: C.B. Claiborne. Bottom right: Desmond Meade.</p>

Top left: Rhiannon Giddens. Top right: Rose Marcario. Bottom left: C.B. Claiborne. Bottom right: Desmond Meade.

Duke will present honorary degrees to four individuals during the Class of 2024’s commencement ceremony, whose lifelong commitments to social justice span from education to environmental activism.

Claudius “C.B.” Claiborne, Rhiannon Giddens, Rose Marcario and Desmond Meade will be recognized at the May 12 commencement ceremony held in Wallace Wade Stadium. Claiborne and Marcario will be awarded Doctors of Humane Letters, Giddens will be awarded a Doctor of Arts degree and Meade will be awarded a Doctor of Laws degree. Jerry Seinfeld, who is set to give the Class of 2024 commencement address, will also be awarded a Doctor of Arts degree.

C.B. Claiborne

As Duke’s first Black student-athlete, Claiborne faced challenges on the basketball court and in the classroom that helped kickstart a career centered around education and leadership.

The Danville, Virginia native first came to Duke in 1965 on a presidential scholarship, just two years after the first five Black undergraduates enrolled. He played a year on the freshman basketball team before joining the men’s varsity team for the next three years. During his time as a Blue Devil, Claiborne was also involved in the Black Student Alliance and participated in the 1969 Allen Building Takeover.

“I just got exposed to a much broader world,” Claiborne said of his time at Duke, reminiscing about his years traveling with the basketball team and meeting “some of the most intelligent, nicest” people through his campus connections.

“It really opened my eyes about the potential [of] what you can do in life,” Claiborne said. “It had a profound experience on my growth.”

Since graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in 1969, Claiborne has returned to campus several times to discuss race, athletics and campus culture. He participated in a panel sponsored by the faculty-led Black in Blue: The Duke Sports and Race Project and is set to be highlighted in a documentary produced by students on the Race and Sports Bass Connections team. The former guard was also honored during Duke’s win over Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium last February.

Claiborne currently serves as interim dean of the Jesse H. Jones School of Business at Texas Southern University, where he has been a professor of marketing since 2005. Claiborne has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished Educator, a Coors Eminent Scholar, a Fulbright Scholar and a Sasakawa Fellow, among other awards.

In addition to his BSE degree from Duke, Claiborne also holds master’s degrees in engineering and business administration from Dartmouth College and Washington University, as well as a doctorate in marketing from Virginia Polytechnic University.

“It’s quite an honor, and I take this as a responsibility to continue my commitment … to make a quality education available to everybody,” Claiborne said of his honorary degree. “This is not just a privilege, this is something everybody should have access to because education is so important.”

Rhiannon Giddens

Giddens is a singer, instrumentalist, and composer of opera, ballet and film who hails from just down the road in Greensboro.

The 2023 Pulitzer Prize winner is perhaps most well known for being a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a Black string band with whom she appeared in a 2007 Duke Performances concert for her first visit to campus.

According to her website, Giddens seeks to “[lift] up people whose contributions to American musical history have previously been overlooked or erased” through her work. In addition to three solo studio albums, the folk artist has collaborated with a number of other musicians on operas and ballets, published children’s books and hosted her own Public Broadcasting Service show and podcast.

Giddens was recently featured playing the banjo on Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em,” which broke barriers as the first song by a woman and first by a Black woman to top both the Hot Country Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Billboard charts. She received a MacArthur Genius grant in 2017 and is a two-time Grammy winner, having also been nominated eight times for her work as a soloist and collaborator.

“I’ve been able to create a lot of different things around stories that are difficult to tell and managed to get them done in a way that’s gotten noticed,” Giddens is quoted on her website. “… I hope that people just hear American music.”

Giddens did not respond to The Chronicle’s request for comment.

Rose Marcario

During her time as president, chief executive officer and board member of Patagonia, Inc., Marcario displayed a commitment to environmental activism and sustainability in business.

Marcario spoke at the Fuqua School of Business in 2016 about the importance of employing sustainable business practices to address climate change. Responsible practices employed by Patagonia include publicly reporting information about the company’s carbon emissions, manufacturing 85% of products in Fair Trade Certified factories and employing a “self-imposed Earth tax” of 1% to redirect funds to environmental nonprofits, among other initiatives.

Marcario supports corporate activism outside of the environmental sector as well. Under her tenure, 100% of working mothers at Patagonia returned to work after giving birth. Marcario also founded Time to Vote in 2020, an initiative to allow employees time off to vote.

The University of Albany graduate was honored in 2015 by then-President Barack Obama as a Champion of Change and was profiled in Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business that same year. Under her leadership, Patagonia was awarded the 2020 Champion of the Earth Award by the United Nations.

Marcario left Patagonia in 2020 after twelve years to “focus on direct climate solutions and just transition of energy and food systems,” according to her website. She is currently a venture partner at ReGen Ventures and also serves on the board of The Society to Protect Underground Networks and as chair of the Forever by Rivian Foundation.

"I feel humbled and honored to receive this honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters, especially from Duke, a university that stands for innovation in business education,” Marcario wrote in a message to The Chronicle.

Desmond Meade

Meade is a globally recognized civil rights activist and author whose work to expand voting rights and reform the criminal justice system has been widely celebrated. However, until just a few years ago, he was unable to cast his own ballot.

As a young adult, Meade struggled with addiction while serving as a helicopter mechanic in the Army. He was court-martialed in 1990 and later served time for a number of felony charges.

“Every possible bad [thing] that could happen to somebody happened to me,” Meade said. 

However, he remarked that he was “able to actually rebound from that and do some amazing things.” In 2005, Meade checked himself into a treatment program to begin rebuilding his life. He graduated in 2010 with highest honors from Miami-Dade College, which he attended while living in a homeless shelter.

Meade commented on the role education plays in “creating opportunities [and] expanding minds.”

“I’ve always believed that there was a responsibility to get an education, and I think the major responsibility is using that education to actually make the world a better place.”

Meade currently serves as president and executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy. His work was critical to the passage of Amendment 4 in 2018, which restored voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions who “complete[d] all terms of their sentence” and has had a “national impact.”

“Because of the work that we’ve done, we’ve had several states that have advanced voting rights to people that have been impacted by the justice system,” Meade said. “In all of those states … at the center of those campaigns were people just like me.”

Meade was recognized by Time Magazine in 2019 as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World and is both a MacArthur Fellow and a Ford Global Fellow. Grammy-winner John Legend shared his story during his commencement address to Duke’s Class of 2021, lauding Meade’s “great love, indomitable optimism and audacious hope.”

“Even with this recognition that I’m getting from Duke University … it’s less about me and more I think about just the possibilities and opportunities for others to be inspired, to understand that their worst day or their worst mistake does not define their future,” Meade said.

Zoe Kolenovsky profile
Zoe Kolenovsky | News Editor

Zoe Kolenovsky is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume.


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