Around Campus

Honorary degrees go to six leaders in policy, justice and fashion

At Spring Commencement, the recipients will include public servants, heads of nonprofits, a civil rights lawyer and a designer of argyle.

Graphic with photos of the six honorary degree winners.
Left to right, top to bottom: Mike McIntyre, Lucille Webb, Alexander Julian, Jonathan Reckford, Bryan Stevenson, Hilda Solis (Photo illustration by Sharon Chung/UNC Creative)

During Spring Commencement May 14, six people will receive honorary degrees from the University. Commencement speaker Bryan Stevenson will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. Alexander Julian, Mike McIntyre, Jonathan Reckford, Hilda Solis and Lucille Webb will receive various honorary degrees.

Alexander Julian

Doctor of Arts

Alexander Julian was born and raised in Chapel Hill and entered Carolina as a member of the Class of 1969. He is a self-taught designer with over 130 different categories of products.

Julian has served as director for several leading design and arts organizations: the executive board of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, helping create the CFDA Awards with Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and Donna Karan; the International Design Conference of Aspen, chairing its conference “Design and the Human Body”; and Americans for the Arts. He also chaired the congressional breakfast for National Arts Day along with Harry Belafonte and Jane Alexander. He founded the Alexander Julian Foundation for Aesthetic Understanding and Appreciation, which fostered ways to teach creativity to children.

Julian has remained connected to his beloved Carolina in many ways. In 1980, he created the Alexander Julian Award for artistic excellence. In 1985, he established the Mary and Maurice Julian Scholarships for undergraduates with financial needs. He was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1988. He was chairman of the Chancellor’s Club for Chancellor Paul Hardin from 1990 to 1995. In 1991, at the request of Coach Dean Smith, Julian re-designed, at no cost, the men’s basketball uniforms and warmups, introducing the now famous argyle, which he donated to Carolina. In 1995, he re-designed women’s basketball uniforms, again at no cost. In 2011, he redesigned the University’s graduation gowns, changing them back to true Carolina Blue and changing the fabric to North Carolina-produced 100% post-consumer recycled polyester, saving tens of millions of plastic bottles from the landfill. In 2016, he was made an Honorary Dialectic Literary Society member. He is currently working pro bono on redesigning the Carolina band and cheerleader uniforms. He has seven children, four of whom are Carolina graduates, and he recently moved back to Chapel Hill after almost 50 years in New York and Connecticut.

Some of his many other accomplishments include: six-time recipient of U.S. Menswear Designer of the Year; the only Tar Heel in the Fashion Hall of Fame; the only fashion designer to win the Pinnacle Award for furniture design; winner of the Young Audiences Award for Arts Education for Children; and recipient of the World Design Award for Humanitarian Endeavors. Julian’s textile design is part of the Smithsonian’s National Design Museum’s permanent collection. He was voted to the International Best Dressed List nine times and is the first professional fashion designer to design pro and college sports uniforms.

Mike McIntyre

Doctor of Laws

A true servant-leader, Douglas Carmichael “Mike” McIntyre II has relentlessly advocated for a better understanding of the Constitution and legal system and made significant contributions to humanity locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.

As a Morehead Scholar, double Tar Heel and U.S. congressman for nearly two decades, McIntyre advocated for marginalized and rural populations while reforming agricultural and economic policies, fought for federal recognition for the Lumbee Tribe and authored legislation for the tobacco buyout and helped distressed communities in the southeastern United States. Voted “Least Partisan Member of Congress,” he always emphasized “doing what’s best for the people back home.”

Internationally, he promoted workforce development and agriculture, and he represented the United States on the Helsinki Commission, as co-chair of the U.K. and Scotland caucuses, and as vice-chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism.

In North Carolina, he has preserved our beaches as environmental treasures, championed funds for military bases, increased the number of veterans clinics, expanded health care for rural areas, organized business summits, promoted civic responsibility, coached youth, mentored students and inspired the next generation of leaders.

Jonathan Reckford

Doctor of Laws

Jonathan T.M. Reckford is the chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International, a global Christian housing organization that has helped more than 46 million people construct, rehabilitate or preserve their homes.

Since 2005, when he took the top leadership position, Habitat organizations in all 50 states and in more than 70 countries have grown from serving 125,000 individuals each year to helping more than 7.1 million people last year build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter. Reckford is the chair of Leadership 18 and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Urban Steering Committee for the World Economic Forum.

After graduating from Carolina as a Morehead Scholar, Reckford worked as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs. He was also the recipient of a Henry Luce Scholarship, which enabled him to do marketing work for the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee and coach the Korean rowing team in preparation for the 1988 Olympics.

He earned his Master of Business Administration degree from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business before spending the first part of his career in the for-profit sector, including executive and managerial positions at Marriott, The Walt Disney Co. and Best Buy. While serving as executive pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church near Minneapolis, he was recruited for the CEO position at Habitat.

Hilda Solis

Doctor of Laws

Hilda L. Solis was sworn in for her third term as Los Angeles County Supervisor for the First District of Los Angeles County Dec. 5, 2022. Equity has guided her, and she has accelerated the County’s efforts to combat homelessness, authorized the groundbreaking Measure A to invest in communities without open green space, reimagined public safety by investing in “Care First, Jails Last,” expanded health care access in areas of need and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was the first Latina to serve in the United States Cabinet and the first Latina ever elected to the state Senate.

Prior to becoming supervisor, she was confirmed on Feb. 24, 2009, as secretary of labor. Before that, Solis represented the 32nd Congressional District in California. In Congress, Solis’ priorities included expanding access to affordable health care, protecting the environment and improving the lives of working families. She authored the Green Jobs Act, which provided funding for “green” collar job training for veterans, displaced workers, at-risk youth and individuals in families under 200% of the federal poverty line.

In 2007, Solis was appointed to the Helsinki Commission, as well as the Mexico-United States Interparliamentary Group. In June 2007, she was elected vice chair of the Helsinki Commission’s General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. Additionally, Solis’ public service spanned the Rio Hondo Board of Trustees, both chambers of the California State Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Solis became the first woman to receive the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2000 for her pioneering work on environmental justice issues. Her California environmental justice legislation, enacted in 1999, was the first of its kind in the nation to become law.

Bryan Stevenson

Doctor of Humane Letters

Bryan Stevenson is a renowned public interest lawyer and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Founded by Stevenson, the Alabama-based nonprofit is a human rights organization that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row inmates, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children who were prosecuted as adults. Stevenson himself has argued and won multiple cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, including a landmark 2012 ruling that banned mandatory life-imprisonment-without-parole sentences for children 17 and younger.

Stevenson has also started anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge inequality in the United States. In 2018, he and the Equal Justice Initiative opened the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Both are part of the Equal Justice Initiative’s effort to create new spaces, markers and memorials to address the legacy of slavery, lynching and racial segregation.

Stevenson’s award-winning memoir, “Just Mercy,” is a New York Times bestseller that won the 2015 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction and was adapted into a 2019 movie of the same name. The book examines injustices in the United States judicial system, with a focus on Stevenson’s efforts to overturn the wrongful conviction of Walter McMillian. Stevenson’s work is also captured in the HBO documentary “True Justice,” which is told primarily in Stevenson’s words and has won several awards, including an Emmy for outstanding social issue documentary.

Stevenson visited Carolina in 2015 to speak to about his work and “Just Mercy,” and the campus community was invited to read the book as part of The Tar Heel Family Reading Program in 2020.

Lucille Webb

Doctor of Humane Letters

Lucille Holcombe Webb, a native of Richmond, Virginia, has been a resident of North Carolina since she matriculated at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, where she earned a B.S. degree. She received the MEd from State University at Oneonta, New York, and additional certification in administration and supervision from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Webb’s career in teaching and administration spans some 40 years. She was a classroom teacher, department chairperson and personnel administrator in the Wake County school system. Since her retirement in 1984, she has been a community advocate, devoting countless hours to helping others and working on boards, commissions, task forces and networking with organizations to plan, implement and monitor programs that impact health, family life and education.

Through service on the Wake County Board of Health, she emerged as president and founding member of Strengthening the Black Family, a Raleigh-based nonprofit focused on improving the quality of life in uplifting the Wake County minority community. The Kellogg Foundation tapped Webb to lead its Community-Based Public Health Initiative to address inequities in the health of the nation’s ethnic minorities. She is heralded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an expert in community-based participatory research and for building support for programs addressing chronic health challenges impacting communities of color. She was recognized by the National Community Based Organization Network of the Community-Based Public Health Caucus of the American Public Health Association through the 2006 creation of the annual Lucille Webb Award.

Her collaboration with University partners at Carolina has been extensive. In representing Strengthening the Black Family on the North Carolina Coalition of the Kellogg Foundation’s Community-Based Public Health Initiative, she has: taught and mentored students and faculty in the competencies they need to be successful community-engaged scholars; served on the program’s National Advisory Committee and a state-wide Institutional Review Board; chaired the executive team for Project DIRECT, a diabetes research development project; and served as community course director for the Faculty Engaged Scholars Program. Balancing these many roles, her insight, guidance and skill in forming successful community-academic partnerships were key to the success of these programs and to advancing knowledge in addressing health disparities.

Full bios for the 2023 Honorary Degrees recipients can be found on the Commencement website.