Best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith, Yale Divinity School Dean Harold W. Attridge and Dance Theater of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell will receive honorary degrees at SMU’s 94th Commencement ceremony at 9:30 a.m. May 16 in Moody Coliseum. Former First Lady Laura Bush (’68) will deliver the Commencement address.
Theologian and academic leader Harold W. Attridge will receive the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree. Law professor and best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith will receive the honorary Doctor or Humane Letters. Dancer, choreographer and educator Arthur Mitchell will receive the honorary Doctor of Arts degree.
“The conferring of honorary degrees is an important part of the Commencement tradition, and we are pleased to recognize three distinguished individuals who have made unique contributions to varied fields of endeavor,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Their achievements help our young graduates to appreciate the breadth of opportunity possible for their own futures as a result of their education.”
Harold W. Attridge, an internationally respected scholar of early Christianity, currently serves at Yale Divinity School as dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament. After receiving his A.B. degree from Boston College, he earned two degrees at Cambridge University and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. He served on the faculty of SMU’s Perkins School of Theology from 1977 to 1985. He then joined the University of Notre Dame, where he was professor of New Testament and later dean of the College of Arts and Letters. He joined the Yale faculty in 1997 and became dean of the Divinity School in 2002.
Attridge’s research has contributed significantly to understanding of the intellectual and religious environment in which Christianity arose. His books include a landmark commentary on the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews.
Alexander McCall Smith has excelled in two diverse careers, as legal scholar and fiction writer. He earned a law degree and Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, where he has led a distinguished career as professor of medical law. He has been a visiting professor at law schools in Europe and the United States, including twice at SMU’s Dedman School of Law, in the late 1980s and in fall 1998. An international authority on biomedical ethics, he has served on the International Bioethics Commission of UNESCO.
Professor McCall Smith is most widely known, however, as a best-selling author. His mystery series on The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 40 languages. The series has been adapted for radio, television and feature film.
Professor McCall Smith has strong connections with faculty in SMU’s Dedman School of Law. He co-authored a professional book with Professor Daniel W. Shuman and dedicated a book in the Isabel Dalhousie Sunday Philosophy Club series to Professor Shuman. Professor McCall Smith dedicated the first book in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series to Professor Joseph W. McKnight and his wife, Mimi, and featured the McKnights as characters in one of the Dalhousie books.
Arthur Mitchell is a pivotal figure in the world of dance, as well as an agent for social change. He is co-founder and artistic director of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a multicultural ballet company of international renown that has broken barriers around the world. After studying at the School of American Ballet, Mitchell became the first African-American male to be a permanent member and principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, he resolved to provide opportunities for the children of Harlem and co-founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
Over the years, Mitchell and his dancers have served as cultural ambassadors and received worldwide acclaim. He also helped develop Dancing Through Barriers®, a national and international education and community outreach program that introduces young people to dance.
SMU expects to award nearly 2,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees to students at the University-wide Commencement ceremony. The University’s schools and departments will hold individual diploma ceremonies throughout the day.