1 April 2022 Zelenskyy to Receive Honorary Degree

Hobart and William Smith will award the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy an honorary degree in absentia.

Hobart and William Smith, along with a number of other colleges and universities, will award Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy an honorary degree at the 2022 Commencement.

Zelenskyy, who will be recognized in absentia, has demonstrated profound leadership in defense of freedom and democracy since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

“Surely if anyone embodies a life of consequence at this point in time, as an example to us all, it is President Zelenskyy,” says President Joyce P. Jacobsen.  “In awarding this degree to President Zelenskyy, Hobart and William Smith honors not only his courage but also the bravery of all Ukrainians including those under attack in their country or recently exiled, and those who call Upstate New York home.”

Second only to the New York City metro area, Rochester, N.Y. has the largest population in the U.S. of Ukrainian immigrants and those of Ukrainian descent. The entire Upstate New York region, including Seneca Falls and Syracuse, is home to many Ukrainians, and colleges in this region have been particularly interested in this initiative.

The joint initiative to honor Zelenskyy by conferring multiple honorary degrees is unprecedented by higher education institutions in North America. This action, Jacobsen and other presidents have stated, signifies the critical responsibility that colleges and universities bear in promoting the tenets of a liberal society such as the unalienable rights of individuals to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

So far, over 20 institutions have agreed in principle to participate, subject to their internal processes. These include a number of HWS’ Liberty League and Upstate New York colleagues: Bard College, Rochester Institute of Technology, Alfred University, Canisius College, Hilbert College, Keuka College, Le Moyne College, Niagara University, Utica University; and institutions in California, Connecticut, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Canada. Additional colleges and universities continue to sign on to the initiative. 

In an article published in Inside Higher Ed titled “A Pile of Honorary Degrees for Zelenskyy,” participating college and university presidents reflect on Zelenskyy’s “example of dauntless leadership” for the Class of 2022. In the article, Jacobsen reflects on the Ukrainian president’s brave example, “that has potentially changed the course of history.” Read the story here.

Zelenskyy was elected the President of Ukraine in 2019. Before he was elected, he was best known for playing a television role as an ordinary schoolteacher accidentally catapulted into power. The show, “Servant of the People,” ran for four years, making him a household name. He holds a law degree from Kyiv National Economic University.