In the grand tradition of College of Charleston commencement ceremonies, the College honors outstanding individuals whose commitment to the institution has helped elevate the College. As part of the winter 2017 commencement ceremonies, four distinguished individuals will be awarded honorary degrees, with each receiving a Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Here’s a look at this year’s recipients:

Michelle Asha Cooper ’95

Commencement speaker Michelle Asha Cooper’ 95 will also receive an honorary degree. A practitioner, researcher and policy advocate, Cooper is president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a D.C.–based research center committed to fostering solutions to the challenges facing today’s students. She has 
also held leadership positions with the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the U.S. Department of Education. She recently co-authored the book, Becoming a Student-Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success. Cooper was also named one of the Top 25 women leaders in higher education and is the 2016 recipient of the Aspen Institute Presidential Fellowship. A native of Charleston and graduate of Burke High School, Cooper was an English major and member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority at the College. She received her master’s degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in education policy and leadership from the University of Maryland, College Park. She served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors and was the 2016 recipient of its Distinguished Alumna Award.

Dr. Biemann Othersen ’50

Throughout his career, Dr. H. Biemann Othersen ’50 has served as a tireless advocate for children’s health and pediatric surgical specialists. He joined the faculty of the Medical University of South Carolina in 1965 to serve as assistant professor of surgery. Othersen was the university’s first chief of pediatric surgery, the first pediatric surgeon in South Carolina, and one of the first in the entire Southeast. Over the years he also served as medical director of Medical University Hospital, associate medical director of MUSC and the first medical director of MUSC Children’s Hospital. In 1998, he was elected president of the American Pediatric Surgical Association. After graduating from the College of Charleston in 1950, he earned his medical degree from MUSC in 1953. At the College of Charleston, he has served on the Alumni Association Board of Directors and on the Cougar Club Board. He received the 1986 Alumnus of the Year Award, the 1999 Distinguished Alumnus Award from the College of Charleston Alumni Association, 
and the 2003 Pre-Medical Society’s Outstanding Service Award in Medicine.

Catherine Murray-Smith and Hilton Smith Jr.

Catherine Murray-Smith and Hilton Smith Jr.

Catherine Peronneau Murray-Smith is a trustee of the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, secretary of the South Carolina Aquarium Board of Directors and a member of the Gibbes Museum 
of Art Board of Directors. Hilton C. Smith Jr. is the
president and CEO of East Bay Co. Ltd. and president and CEO of numerous real estate development and home building companies in Maryland, West Virginia and South Carolina. This husband and wife team both graduated from Georgetown University where Murray-Smith received degrees in
 foreign management and marketing and Smith earned a degree in international finance. Murray-Smith previously worked
 for the World Bank and was owner and president of Commercial Design Services, a commercial interior design firm in Maryland. Smith also began his career at the World Bank, before joining his father-in-law in the late 1970s at East Bay Company
 where has served as president since 1998.  At the College of Charleston, Murray-Smith serves on the School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs Advisory Board and has played an integral role in the growth of the school. As a result of her advocacy, the school has been able to expand interdisciplinary and international programming, recruit and retain distinguished faculty and increase study-abroad opportunities for students.  Murray-Smith previously served on the Friends of the Library Board of Directors. Smith serves on the boards of the Oliver S. and Jennie R. Donaldson Charitable Trust, Spaulding- Paolozzi Foundation, Hollings Cancer Center of the Medical University of South Carolina, Palmetto Project and The EastWest Institute. He is a past chair of the College of Charleston Foundation Board and chairman of the School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs Advisory 
Board. Catherine Murray-Smith and Hilton Smith are members of the College’s Bishop Robert Smith Society. They previously served on the College’s BOUNDLESS Campaign Steering Committee.