An honorary degree is a decoration bestowed upon an individual who is esteemed to have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements or valuable contributions to society. The honorary award is given at commencement ceremonies that take place every spring across universities. In his book Liberal Education and the Public Interest
, president emeritus of Dartmouth College and University of Iowa, James O. Freedman, writes, “Although no reliable count exists, in the aggregate several thousand honorary degrees are conferred every year by the nation’s more than three thousand colleges and universities” (118). Choosing an honorand is extremely important to universities because the individual must be deserving of merit since they embody and emphasize the values of the university. More importantly, the individual receiving the honorary award in turn generates publicity for the university and helps promote its values. The Role and Mission of USC
is to “strive constantly for excellence in teaching knowledge and skills to our students, while at the same time helping them to acquire wisdom and insight, love of truth and beauty, moral discernment, understanding of self, and respect and appreciation for others.” Past honorary degree recipients
USC has celebrated have been film composer John Williams and director Robert Zemeckis. Both Williams and Zemeckis were celebrated and recognized for their talents and contributions to film, as well as for creating new standards of excellence in their fields.
For the spring commencement ceremony of 2007, I feel strongly that USC should bestow an honorary degree to film actress Angelina Jolie. Though some may question Angelina Jolie’s contribution to the field of acting, her acting skills are not at the center of my reasons for celebrating her achievements. In fact, it is her humanitarian efforts with refugees that make her worthy of an honorary degree for Doctor of Humane Letters for being an Outstanding Citizen. As Freedman noted, “When student newspapers suggest names for honorands and speakers, the lists tend to be dominated by celebrities who may well prove to be, in Mark Twain’s words, 'of small and temporary notoriety': for example, Michael Jordan, Bill Cosby, Garry Trudeau, Madonna, Jay Leno, and Tom Hanks” (128). However, I have selected Jolie, because her personal ideals and moral concerns for others have helped millions of people in need. Jolie is not “of small and temporary notoriety” since she devoted much of her time and money to traveling around the world to meet with refugees.
While the tabloids may make Jolie appear strange by reporting on her fetish for knives, commenting on her bisexuality and covering thoroughly her love affairs with her co-stars, Angelina Jolie has a different side to her as well. She dares to be different and breaks the mold of a typical Hollywood actress. Jolie is a strong, independent and remarkably talented woman who at times may appear untamed, but has instead chosen to live her life honestly and openly. By Hollywood’s standards Jolie is a selfless and humble individual, which puts her at odds with her career. Hollywood is a cut throat business known for protecting its self-interests and celebrities are known to become affected by the fame and fortune. Angelina Jolie however is an exception to the rule. Not only has used her money to aide others, but she has devoted her time to the causes she believes in. As a matter of fact, Jolie devotes 1/3 of her income
to savings, 1/3 to living expenses and 1/3 to charity.
Born June 4, 1975
to actors Jon Voight and Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina Jolie was exposed at an early age to acting. It is no wonder that she would go on to win 3 Golden Globes consecutively, 2 SAG awards and an Academy Award. Jolie’s most notable films have been Girl, Interrupted
(for which she won her Oscar), Gia
, Tomb Raider
and Mr. and Mrs. Smith
. From 1997 on, Jolie grew as an actress and became tabloid fodder for her off-screen antics and more than interesting behavior. Most recently, she has been in the tabloids because of her romantic relationship with co-star Brad Pitt after his split from Jennifer Aniston. Currently the two are raising Jolie’s two adopted children, Maddox and Zahara, as well as their biological child Shiloh. Angelina Jolie’s image has metamorphosed throughout the years from knife collecting, bisexual sex symbol to mother and now humanitarian.
After filming Tomb Raider
in Cambodia, Jolie became aware of humanitarian work and approached the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2001 to see how she could help. The UN Refugee Agency uses celebrity advocates to utilize their talent and fame to advocate for refugees. It should be noted that Jolie was not asked to volunteer her time and services, but rather she herself took the initiative to join the cause. The UNHCR
is an organization that protects and supports refugees. Since approaching the UNHCR in 2001, Angelina Jolie
has used the media to promote her causes. She has gone to over 20 countries on field operations, where she has documented her experiences in personal journals. When asked how she f
elt about her field operation visits, Jolie responded, “I was shocked by what I saw. We cannot close ourselves off to information and ignore the fact that millions of people are out there suffering. I honestly want to help. I don’t believe I feel differently from other people. I think we all want justice and equality, a chance for a life with meaning. All of us would like to believe that if we were in a bad situation someone would help us.” Obviously, Angelina Jolie’s dedication to helping refugees is of genuine concern to protect human rights and is an ample illustration of her personal ideals and character. Protecting human rights is a commitment that USC upholds in its Mission Statement, in order to respect the rights and dignity of all persons. With hopes of being a beacon of light for future generations, the university states in its nominating guidelines that prospective candidates are of exceptional merit having completed “acts
of philanthropy to the university and/or on the nation or world scene”. The character and motivation of Angelina Jolie is important to evaluate, because an individual being given an honorary degree should be a role model to graduating classes. In selecting honorands, universities must carefully examine the candidates so that their selections not be ill chosen. USC honors individuals who are widely known in their fields, in order to draw attention to its own achievements as an academic institution.
To measure the nominee’s attainments, it is helpful to use Mike Martin’s three categories which are derived from his book Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics
. A Professor of Philosophy at Chapman University, Mike Martin lists three categories: craft, compensation and morals to define a profession. In the case of Angelina Jolie, her
successful acting career affords her enough money to support her growing family as well as her philanthropic interests. Money is not Angelina Jolie's motivation. Jolie enjoys working so that she can provide for her growing family as well as support important causes that are meaningful to her. Jolie’s self-fulfillment comes through her service to helping others. According to Martin, “The motives are not artificially yoked together, but instead find a unified expression in commitments to communal goods such as justice, health, and learning-goods that are neither purely self-oriented(egoistic) nor purely other-oriented(altruistic), but are instead community goods for self-and-others” (31). The organization which Jolie is a part of has helped 50 million refugees restart their lives as of 2004. Angelina Jole took on the responsibility of protecting refuges on five continents. Her travels and visits to several countries led to her publication of a book “Notes from My Travels” and her journal entries were posted on the website
. Rather than have her expenses paid by the UNHCR, Jolie has covered all of her expenses and donated over 3 million dollars to UNHCR programs. In addition, she has used her fame to attract the media to her causes in order to advocate for refugees. In fact, MTV gave Jolie her own special called The Diary of Angelina Jolie & Jeffrey Sacks
. Moreover, when Jolie was pregnant with her child from Brad Pitt she arranged a deal with People Magazine
that allowed them the rights to print the first picture of her pregnant for a $500,000
donation to Yele Haiti. She has also pledged $5 million for a wildlife sanctuary in North-Western province, plus in September 2006 she started the Jolie/Pitt Foundation to provide donations to Global Action for Children and Doctors Without Borders.
For her contributions to helping refugees, she was given the first UNCA Citizen of the World award
by the United Nations Correspondents Association in October 2003. In 2005, she received the Global Humanitarian Action Award from the United Nations Association of the USA and the Business Council for the UN. It isn’t surprising that Angelina Jolie’s work has been acknowledged because in the five year she has helped the UNHCR she has traveled to regions including Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Cambodia, Thailand, Ecuador, Kenya, Namibia, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, the Russian Federation, Jordan, Egypt, Chad, Sudan’s Darfur region and Lebanon. In all of her travels she documented her personal thoughts and reflections in order to share them with the public. In her journal documenting her trip to Kosovo
, Angelina writes honestly, “It was reported, no one was killed but 30 were injured. I worry about Mimi. (Marie-Noelle, a friend I first met when she was working for UNHCR in Cambodia and Thailand.) She was posted in Kosovo six months ago. I finally get her on the phone. We talk about the days we will spend and what we will be doing. I don’t mention the bombing. I can’t help but notice as I write how luxurious this room I am in is. How pampered I am here. ” With all of her traveling, Jolie has still managed to balance her acting career with motherhood and her humanitarian efforts. Her ability to manage all three facets of her life again illustrates her dedication and passion for life. It is also important that I note her participation with World Refugee Day
(June 20). World Refugee Day is meant to urge the world not to forget about refugees. Jolie hopes her efforts with the World Refugee Day will help with legal counsel and assistance to refugees.
While some critics may view Angelina Jolie as merely a celebrity, honoring her with a degree will change people’s perceptions of actors as being merely entertainers. Angelina Jole has been able to use her acting career as a platform to something greater-protecting civil rights. She has utilized her talent and her fame to give a voice to millions of refugees that are in vulnerable circumstances.USC graduates would benefit greatly from having the opportunity to hear Angelina Jolie give a commencement speech in the spring of 2007. In my personal opinion, Angelina Jolie embodies the values that USC states in its personal mission. Her world travels have given her wisdom and insight, she has a profound love of truth and beauty, excellent moral discernment, understanding of self, and clearly as an advocate for refugees she has gained more respect and appreciation for others. In an interview, Angelina Jolie spoke of her experience of field operations where she said, “You go to these places and you realize what life’s really about and what people are really going through. These people are my heroes”. Jolie’s personal accounts with refugees and her insight are extremely valuable to USC graduates to take into the real world. Jolie can clearly articulate to the graduating class of 2007 about the impact they can make on the world by devoting their time and passion to a cause. Her wisdom will inspire graduates to live a meaningful life of service to others.