Columbia College Chicago Announces 2017 Honorary Degree Recipients

Photo: Phil Dembinski '08
David Cromer, Mark Kelly, Richard “Dick” Paul Kiphart, Kerry James Marshall, and Judy and Dennis Shepard will be honored at commencement ceremonies

CHICAGO (April 13, 2017)—Columbia College Chicago is proud to announce a roster of leaders who embody Columbia’s mission through activism, philanthropy, painting, directing, and community engagement as the 2017 commencement ceremony keynote speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients. Each honoree will address students at one of five commencement ceremonies on May 13 and May 14, 2017, at the historic Auditorium Theatre. More than 2,200 graduate and undergraduate students are expected to graduate this year and attend the commencement ceremonies.

This year’s Honorary Degree Recipients are: MacArthur Fellow and multi-award-winning theatre director David Cromer; former Columbia vice president for student success and current commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Mark Kelly; international startup investor and civic leader, the late Richard “Dick” Paul Kiphart; renowned painter and artist Kerry James Marshall; and social justice advocates and LGBT allies Judy and Dennis Shepard.

“One of the primary qualities shared by each of our Honorary Degree Recipients is the strong relationship they establish between their creative work and the world,” said President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim. “They are truly leaders in their fields, and this year, our speakers model leadership in a range of distinctive and diverse ways.”

In the order of Columbia’s 2017 commencement ceremonies, the keynote speakers and Honorary Degree Recipients are:

Judy and Dennis Shepard – Honored at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 13

In October 1998, Judy and Dennis Shepard lost their 21-year-old son, Matthew, to a murder motivated by anti-gay hate. Matthew’s death moved thousands of people around the world to attend vigils and rallies in his memory. Determined to prevent others from suffering their son’s fate, the Shepards turned their grief into action and established the Matthew Shepard Foundation. The foundation is dedicated to the causes championed by Matthew during his life: social justice, diversity awareness and education, and equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Judy Shepard is the founding president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board of Directors, serving as its first executive director from 1999 to 2009. In her role as board president, Judy travels across the nation speaking to audiences about how they can make the world a more accepting place for everyone, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sex, gender identity and expression, or sexual orientation. In 2009, she authored a memoir, The Meaning of Matthew, which explores the family’s journey through the prosecution of Matthew’s assailants, the ensuing media coverage and the family’s continuing work to advance civil rights. Judy holds a Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education from the University of Wyoming.

Dennis Shepard has been an advocate for parents’ unconditional love for their LGBT children both during his son Matthew’s life and since the hate-motivated murder of Matthew in Laramie, Wyoming. Born in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, Dennis earned a degree in education from the University of Wyoming before marrying Judy in 1973 and settling in Casper, Wyoming, to raise their family. An oil industry safety specialist, Dennis worked for more than 16 years in safety operations for Saudi Aramco in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Dennis has served on the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board of Directors since the organization’s inception. He currently speaks to audiences around the country, particularly to victims’ advocacy organizations and law enforcement about the importance of equal treatment of LGBT crime victims and their loved ones.

Judy and Dennis Shepard live and work in Casper, Wyoming.

David Cromer – Honored at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 13

David Cromer is an award-winning theatre director whose work has appeared on stages in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Houston, Kansas City, Washington D.C. and London. Originally from Chicago and now based in New York, Cromer has been associated with Columbia College Chicago since the fall of 1982, when he began as an Acting major in what was then the Theatre/Music Department. In the late 1980s, he returned to Columbia to study directing and returned again in the early ’90s to teach. While still a student, Cromer was afforded multiple opportunities to work professionally by the faculty of the college. When Cromer began directing plays professionally in Chicago, he continued the tradition of using Columbia as a major resource for new, energized, fearless talent. During his entire time at Columbia, Cromer had the good fortune to work under the leadership of the late Theatre Department Chair Sheldon Patinkin. Cromer was also a part-time faculty member at Columbia for 15 years before he relocated to New York.

Since then, Cromer has been lauded for his innovative take on classic American plays like Our TownPicnic and A Streetcar Named Desire, as well as his stewardship of critically acclaimed new works like Adding Machine and The Band’s Visit. He has received a number of prestigious awards for his work, including four Joseph Jefferson Awards, three Lucille Lortel Awards and two Obie Awards. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2010.

Richard “Dick” Paul Kiphart – Honored (in memoriam) at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 13

Richard Paul Kiphart was born in Milwaukee and graduated from Dartmouth College and Harvard Business School. He served in the U.S. Navy and worked for William Blair & Company for 50 years. A civic-minded citizen, Kiphart was president of the Erikson Institute board and served on the boards of Lurie Children’s Hospital, Merit School of Music, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Poetry Foundation and Columbia College Chicago. Kiphart worked with his son-in-law Chris Capps as an angel investor for technology startups and other businesses. He had an analytical mind and an entrepreneurial spirit and was not afraid of well-considered risk-taking.

Kiphart was known for his sense of humor, his interest in listening to people of all ages who came to him for advice and his philanthropy. He and his wife, Susie, cared deeply about putting the arts back in Chicago Public Schools and contributed to this effort through the Be Creative campaign. Kiphart was a devoted champion for LBGT rights and supported the organization Family Focus. He was dedicated to global social justice through his support for the Center for Global Health at the University of Chicago. Kiphart and his wife funded the building of wells, schools and health care in Ghana and Nigeria.

Kiphart was especially devoted to his family—he had three daughters and seven grandchildren. He taught Sunday school, coached soccer and was a hands-on father known to leave meetings to be home with his family for dinner. Kiphart’s interest in Columbia was deep and passionate. He had great faith in the college’s mission and success. Susie Kiphart will accept the degree and deliver the commencement address on behalf of her late husband.

Mark Kelly – Honored at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 14

Mark Kelly is the commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE). He is the steward of the Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park, and manages the city’s grant program for artists and cultural organizations, the Chicago Film Office, and many signature citywide events. Kelly was appointed to the post by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in July 2016. In a short time, Kelly has launched the Year of Public Art initiative and Free, Free, Free!, in which he encourages citizens to engage in the cultural life of the city.

Kelly previously served as the vice president for student success at Columbia College Chicago, where he fostered and oversaw an immersive experience for Columbia’s diverse and creative student body. For more than 30 years, Kelly served in numerous leadership roles, encouraging students to be bold, passionate and driven as they developed personally, creatively and intellectually. Columbia students “schooled” and inspired him, and he, in turn, pushed students to bring a “hell yeah” approach as they built their body of work. Kelly created the Student Affairs unit and organized signature student events including Manifest, Commencement, New Student Convocation and orientation. He will always treasure his time at Columbia.

Kelly is founder of the Wabash Arts Corridor (WAC) initiative, framing the South Loop as a hub for street art, installations and spectacle. In his next chapter as commissioner of DCASE, Kelly looks to infuse his signature style into the fabric of the city, celebrating and shepherding Chicago’s cultural sector as it takes to the streets, literally and figuratively.

Kerry James Marshall – Honored at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 14

Kerry James Marshall is renowned for his paintings depicting actual and imagined events from African-American history. His complex and multilayered portrayals of youths, interiors, nudes, housing estate gardens, and land- and seascapes synthesize different traditions and genres while seeking to counter stereotypical representations of black people in society. Marshall also produces comic-book-style drawings, sculptural installations, photography and video. These works address the historiography of black art while drawing attention to the fact that they are not inherently partisan because their subjects are black.

Marshall was born in 1955 in Birmingham, Alabama. He studied at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, earning his BFA in 1978 and an honorary doctorate in 1999. Marshall has received many prestigious awards throughout his career, including a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the MacArthur Foundation. In 2013, he was named to former President Barack Obama's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. His work is held in collections at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, among many others.

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry is the first major museum survey of Marshall’s work, focusing on his paintings from the past 35 years. The exhibition debuted at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago before traveling to The Met Breuer and The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, where it will be on display until July. Marshall lives and works in Chicago.

For more information on the 2017 Columbia College Chicago commencement ceremonies, and for a copy of the commencement guide, visit



Columbia College Chicago is a private, non-profit urban institution offering a distinctive curriculum that blends creative arts, media, liberal arts and business for more than 8,000 students in more than 100 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Dedicated to academic excellence and long-term career success, Columbia College Chicago creates a dynamic, challenging and collaborative space for students who experience the world through a creative lens. For more information, visit

Media Contacts: 

Anjali Julka, 312.369.7016,

Desiree Johnson, 312.369.7728,