Lee University will award Governor Bill Haslam an honorary doctorate when he delivers their winter commencement address on the Cleveland campus this weekend, officials announced Thursday.
“We are honored that the governor is taking time to come and speak to our graduates,” said Lee President Paul Conn, “and we feel it’s the perfect opportunity to recognize the governor’s many years of exceptional service in public life. We are glad he has agreed to accept this degree, a Doctor of Laws, as part of Saturday’s ceremony.”
Dr. Conn explained that the Doctor of Laws degree is the honorary degree most commonly given to recognize accomplishment in government. It is the first time Lee has given such a degree to an elected official, and only the thirteenth honorary degree the school has awarded in the past 25 years.
Saturday’s commencement ceremony at Lee is the first of three graduations during the school year. The university will confer bachelors and masters degrees to 275 graduates, a record number for the December graduation. “It’s shaping up to be a big day,” Conn continued, “a major milestone for a lot of students and their families. We are grateful Governor Haslam will be here to be a part of that moment.
“Lee University places a strong emphasis on serving others. Our graduates this weekend have been taught the importance of service since they arrived on campus as freshmen. It makes sense for us to bestow an honor like this on such an exemplary public servant as Governor Haslam.”
In addition to Governor Haslam’s commencement address, the graduates and their guests will hear music by the Lee University Chorale. A full house is expected in the 1800-seat Conn Center, and the 500-seat Dixon Center next door will be linked via widescreen video. In addition, the ceremony is being live-streamed on the university website, www.leeuniversity.edu/video.
“We know Governor Haslam will provide our graduates with a wonderful example of a successful businessman who left private business to serve the public in government leadership,” Dr. Conn said. “We are complimented that he would come to participate in our commencement, of course, but we also believe he can offer an important challenge to our graduates, whatever their political affiliation.”
Governor Haslam, who was elected to be Tennessee’s governor in 2010, is a native of Knoxville. He graduated from Emory University as a history major in 1980. Working in his family business, Pilot Corporation, he eventually became president of that company. He was elected mayor of Knoxville in 2003 and served in that office until his run for the governorship.
Governor Haslam and his wife Crissy have two daughters and a son. They are members of the Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, where he served as an elder for 22 years.