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University News

Honorary degrees will go to journalist, judge, businessman and internationalist

The University will confer these prestigious awards to four individuals at Commencement to recognize their outstanding service to humanity.

Millie Ravenel, Eddie Smith Jr., Algenon Lamont Marbley and Frank A. Bruni Jr
From left: Millie Ravenel, Eddie Smith Jr., Algenon Lamont Marbley and Frank A. Bruni Jr. (Photo collage by UNC Creative)

During Spring Commencement next month, four people will receive honorary degrees from the University. Commencement speaker Frank A. Bruni Jr. will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. Algenon Lamont Marbley, Millie Ravenel and Eddie Smith Jr. will receive honorary Doctor of Laws degrees.

Frank A. Bruni Jr.

Doctor of Letters

Frank Bruni ’86 began his journalism career at Carolina as a Morehead Scholar, English major and student reporter at The Daily Tar Heel. After earning a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, he worked as a reporter for the New York Post and then the Detroit Free Press, where he covered the first Persian Gulf War and was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in feature writing.

Bruni is best known for his work for The New York Times, where from 1995 to 2021 he wrote as a columnist, White House correspondent and chief restaurant critic. He now contributes opinion pieces and pens a weekly newsletter for the Times. He is the author of several books, including “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania” and the 2022 memoir “The Beauty of Dusk,” about finding optimism after partially losing his eyesight.

The Tar Heel recently moved back to North Carolina to become the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, citing a desire to move to a quieter area, teach and have more time to reflect.

Bruni credits Carolina and faculty members who “were wonderful and engaged teachers and made learning a joy” for providing diverse experiences and preparing him for a career in journalism.

Algenon Lamont Marbley

Doctor of Laws

Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley ’76 is a federal judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

Upon recommendation from Sen. John Glenn, President Bill Clinton appointed Marbley to the bench in 1997. Marbley became the Chief District Judge for the Southern District of Ohio on Sept. 14, 2019, becoming the first African American to serve in that capacity.

In his 24 years serving as a district court judge, Marbley has presided over some of the most important cases in central Ohio and the country, deciding issues ranging from voting rights to policing. Before serving on the bench, Marbley was a partner with the law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, where he practiced civil, criminal and administrative law for 11 years.

Marbley, who received a bachelor’s degree from Carolina and a doctor of law degree from Northwestern University, also remains active in the community. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of The Ohio State University and serves on the boards of the Knowledge Is Power Program School and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The Washington Post adopted one of his statements during a trial as its motto: “Democracy dies in darkness.” Marbley is married and has two adult sons, one stepson and three granddaughters.

Millie Ravenel

Doctor of Laws

Millie Ravenel embodies the spirit of public service that, along with teaching and research, constitutes the core mission of great public universities in the United States.

In 1979, Ravenel, working with then-Gov. James B. Hunt and his wife, Carolyn, became the founding executive director of the North Carolina Center for International Understanding. Their vision for the center, which operated as a public service project of the UNC System, was to demystify other nations and cultures in an increasingly interconnected world through people-to-people exchanges. Planeloads of North Carolinians traveled abroad to live for a week in the homes of people in India, Japan, Kenya and other countries, while more than 1,000 visitors from other countries did likewise in the homes of North Carolinians.

Over the next three decades under Ravenel’s leadership, the center expanded its mission to promote global awareness among state leaders across a wide range of sectors. It has sent more than 10,000 North Carolina educators, legislators and other leaders to 50 different countries and hosted more than 5,000 international guests. Its Latino Initiative addressed North Carolina’s changing demographics by sending state and local policy leaders to Mexico to learn about immigration and develop strategies for integrating Latino residents into North Carolina communities. Through its Global Teachers Fellowship, which often gave North Carolina teachers their first international experience, over 1,100 teachers took part in professional development programs in 19 countries and returned with expanded worldviews and lesson plans to pass on to their students. Global policy programs connected North Carolina leaders with best practices in education, economic development and energy policy throughout the world. And the center became a national leader in setting up Chinese language and culture classrooms that have enabled 7,000 North Carolina students to study Mandarin Chinese. In 2017, the Center adopted a new name — Go Global NC — reflecting its orientation toward a forward-looking North Carolina.

Though she retired as executive director in 2011, Ravenel, who graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor of science degree, continues to pursue her vision of a globally connected North Carolina. She is working to build an endowment that will eventually ensure a teacher from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties will participate in a global professional development program every year.

Eddie Smith Jr.

Doctor of Laws

Eddie Smith ’65 is chairman and CEO of Grady-White Boats Inc., the world’s premier builder of outboard-powered sport fishing boats, based in Greenville, North Carolina. The company makes 27 boat models, 18-45 feet in length, which are distributed nationally and internationally through independently owned Grady-White dealerships.

During his 50 years at the helm of Grady-White Boats, which he salvaged from near-bankruptcy, Smith has assumed a leadership role in many industry and charitable organizations, including serving as chairman of the board of directors of the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

But it is Smith’s passion for all things Carolina, where the first-generation student played football and graduated with a bachelor of science degree, that really shines. He is a past member of the Executive Committee of the UNC Educational Foundation and of the University’s Board of Trustees. The Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Family Foundation, which he created with his late wife, has made philanthropic gifts to the Lineberger Cancer Center, School of Medicine, UNC Health Foundation, Kenan-Flagler Business School, College of Arts & Sciences and other schools and programs.

He and his family have been particularly generous when it comes to Carolina Athletics. Smith considered athletics the “front porch of UNC” for the way sports keeps alumni coming back and connected. He endowed a football scholarship in his father’s name in 1987, launching decades of investments in Kenan Stadium expansions and renovations, construction of the Stallings-Evans Sports Medicine Center and the Eddie Smith Field House, also named in honor of Smith’s father. Chris Smith Field at Kenan Stadium is named for Smith’s son, a 1987 alumnus, who died of ALS in 2021.

Read more stories at TheWell.UNC.edu