UMN awards Prince honorary doctorate degree

Prince was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Wednesday night, which was also accompanied by music performances.

University Regent Darrin Rosha introduces the honorary doctorate as Tyka Nelson, sister of Prince, holds the diploma with President Eric Kaler at the ceremony for the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters for Prince on Wednesday, Sept. 26. An honorary degree is the highest award conferred by the University of Minnesota, recognizing achievements that have added to the betterment of society.

Tony Saunders

University Regent Darrin Rosha introduces the honorary doctorate as Tyka Nelson, sister of Prince, holds the diploma with President Eric Kaler at the ceremony for the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters for Prince on Wednesday, Sept. 26. An honorary degree is the highest award conferred by the University of Minnesota, recognizing achievements that have added to the betterment of society.

Michelle Griffith

The University of Minnesota has given honorary degrees to some notable figures in the past: Desmond Tutu, Jane Goodall and Hillary Clinton are some notable honorees. On Wednesday, Prince Rogers Nelson was added to that list.

The University awarded Prince the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Wednesday evening during a ceremony that included performances of the star’s hit songs. 

The award is given to those who make great contributions to society and human life, said Michael Kim, director of the University’s School of Music, who advocated for Prince to get the degree. 

Tyka Nelson, Prince’s sister, accepted the award on his behalf while many family members sat in the front row.

The honorary degree is given to those who are not current employees of the University. Recipients of the degree need to be nominated and afterward go through the institution’s review process before being sent to the Board of Regents for final approval. 

With Prince, the University has now awarded 274 degrees. The Board gives out several degrees each year, but previous award ceremonies have not been as grand as Prince’s. 

The University nominated Prince for the degree long before Wednesday evening. Kim said the nomination had been sent before he became the Director of the School of Music in 2015 and the Board approved the nomination in 2016 — before Prince passed away. 

Kim said Prince knew about the nomination and was excited to receive the degree. He was only recently awarded the degree because of the long, time-consuming process, Kim added.

Because of Prince’s philanthropy, advocacy and humility, among other notable attributes, Prince was a perfect nominee for the honor, Kim said.

“He’s the very type of musician that we endeavor to create in the [University’s] School of Music,”  Kim said.

Some administrators in attendance at the event included University President Eric Kaler, Regent Darrin Rosha and College of Liberal Arts Dean John Coleman. Audience members filled up Ted Mann Concert Hall on West Bank, selling out the auditorium. 

In between musical performances from a University jazz ensemble, chamber ensemble and St. Paul and the Minneapolis Funk All Stars, Kaler gave the award to Tyka Nelson. She was overcome with emotion on stage and was unable to complete the remarks she had planned to say.

Prince has been given many awards, including multiple Grammys, an Academy Award and a Minnesota Music Hall of Fame induction in 2007.

“All during his career, he never forgot Minnesota,” said Bonnie Ubl, assistant director at the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame Museum. Prince grew up in Minnesota and maintained a residence at Paisley Park in Chanhassen until his death. 

Throughout the event, administrators were interrupted by a cheering crowd. During the music numbers, the audience stood and swayed to the music. Some even recorded the entire performance. 

“For us in Minnesota, Prince’s identity as a singer and songwriter is closely connected to his role as a dedicated community builder,” Dean Coleman said at the event. “He showed the world that Minnesota’s creative talents are cutting-edge, brilliant and eye-opening.”

The degree will be displayed at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, which is now a museum.