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Four Receive Honorary Degrees at Commencement

The first woman elected principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a longtime benefactor of the University, an award-winning poet and novelist, and one of the nation’s most prominent theologians received honorary degrees Sunday during UNC’s Spring Commencement.

The recipients are:

  • Joyce Conseen Dugan, former principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree;
  • Thomas Stephen Kenan III ’59, businessman and UNC benefactor, who will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree;
  • Robert Ray Morgan’65 , Kappa Alpha professor of English at Cornell University and author, who will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree; and
  • John Shelby Spong ’52 , retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, N.J., and author, who will receive a doctor of humane letters degree.

Morgan was profiled in the March/April 2000 issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, and Spong was the subject of an in-depth profile in the July/August 2001 issue of the Review; the articles and an audio presentation of one of Spong’s sermons, are available online to GAA members.

The ceremony was presided over by Chancellor James Moeser in Kenan Memorial Stadium. Wendy Kopp, founder and president of Teach For America, was the featured speaker. Teach For America recruits graduating seniors to teach for two years in some of the nation’s most disadvantaged grade schools.

Joyce Conseen Dugan
Dugan was born on the Cherokee reservation and was elected principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in 1995 – the first woman to serve as chief of the 13,400-member group. After completing her term, she began work at one of the tribal enterprises, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel, where she developed and supervised a senior management training program. Currently, she focuses on external relations and career development for the casino.

Dugan, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Western Carolina University, is recognized as a leader in American Indian education. When the Bureau of Indian Affairs turned control of reservation schools over to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Dugan became director of education and undertook the creation of a new school system. She worked to integrate Cherokee culture and language instruction throughout the curriculum, and this strategy remains in effect today.

Among her honors, she has been named Distinguished Woman of North Carolina in the field of education (1992) and Western Carolina University Alumna of the Year (1997). She serves on the N.C. Tourism Board, the Blue Ridge Heritage Area Board and the Cherokee Indian Hospital Board of Governors.

In 2003, she collaborated with Lynne Harlan, her assistant, to write The Cherokee, a book providing information about Cherokee history and art.

Thomas Stephen Kenan III ’59
Kenan, a Durham native who majored in economics at UNC, is director of Flagler System Inc. He is a trustee of the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust; director of the William R. Kenan Jr. Fund, the William R. Kenan Jr. Fund for the Arts and the William R. Kenan Jr. Fund for Engineering, Technology and Science; and a member of the William R. Kenan Jr. Fund for Ethics Board of Directors. He also is a trustee of the Duke Endowment and a trustee emeritus on the N.C. School of the Arts’ Board of Trustees.

The Kenan family has long supported UNC, establishing 38 trusts and funds for professorships, lectureships, scholarships, instructional programs and buildings on campus.

Kenan supported UNC’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities from its earliest stages and is a member of its advisory board. He also has supported Wilson Library and its Southern Historical Collection, established scholarships for voice students in the department of music and provided funding for Ackland Art Museum educational programs and acquisitions.

He has supported the renovation and performance program endowment of Memorial Hall and improvements to Coker Arboretum and the N.C. Botanical Garden; he was instrumental in the current restoration of the Campus Y building and the planned renovation of Gerrard Hall.

His honors include UNC’s Order of the Golden Fleece (1990), William Richardson Davie Award (1995) and the General Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Medal (1996) and the N.C. Award for Public Service (1997).

Robert Ray Morgan ’65
Morgan, a Hendersonville native who majored in English at UNC, received his master of fine arts degree from UNC-Greensboro. He is author of 10 books of poetry, five novels and several collections of short stories. He has been a member of the Cornell faculty since 1971. Morgan, whose poetry is inspired by the people and sights of the North Carolina mountains, has been called the “poet laureate of Appalachia.”

One of Morgan’s most celebrated novels, Gap Creek, received the Southern Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction in 2000 and was a selection of Oprah’s Book Club.

Morgan’s additional awards and honors include four National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellowship, the N.C. Award for Literature, the James G. Hanes Prize for Poetry from the Fellowship of Southern Writers, the Jacaranda Review Fiction Prize and inclusion in New Stories from the South and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards.

Morgan has been a visiting writing professor at Davidson College and Appalachian State University and a visiting writer at Duke, East Carolina and Furman universities.

John Shelby Spong ’52
Spong, a Charlotte native who majored in philosophy at UNC, received his master of divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary. He served for 24 years as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark before his retirement.

Before serving as bishop, he had been rector of St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Durham and chaplain to graduate students at Duke University as well as rector of churches in Tarboro and Lynchburg and Richmond, Va.

One of the most prolific writers among the clergy, his publication in 1998 of Why Christianity Must Change or Die staked out his future work in the church. He has written 15 books, which have been translated into nine other languages and have sold more than 1 million copies in English. His current weekly column on the Web has a readership estimated at 100,000.

Spong is viewed as a central figure in the Episcopal conversation worldwide on social, ecclesiastical and moral issues. His first speech in the House of Bishops was in support of the ordination of women, and he supports the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life and ministry of the church.

His academic appointments include Quatercentenary Scholar at Emmanuel College of Cambridge University, scholar-in-residence at Christ Church College of the University of Oxford and William Beldon Noble Lecturer at Harvard University.

Spong has given lectures at universities and conferences and churches in North America, Asia, Europe and the South Pacific.


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