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The honorary degree and commencement address

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It’s graduation time and with that comes the latest round of celebrity graduation speeches. This tradition at colleges like Harvard, Dartmouth, and Yale makes the day fun and memorable - particularly for the celebrities themselves who often earn an honorary degree for their appearance.

Universities and colleges can, and often do, give out as many honorary degrees as they want each year; usually to prominent people, past presidents, and stars. In other words, Oprah or Ben Affleck can earn the same degree in one hour that you spent four years working hard for. On top of that, these celebrities are often paid top dollar to do so.

Honorary degrees are nothing new. The first was given out by Oxford in 1474 to King Edward VI’s brother-in-law, Bishop Lionel Woodville. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Oxford gave out hundreds more to prominent and wealthy men, and Harvard took that tradition overseas.

Meryl Streep, John Legend, and even Kanye West are among the long list of celebrities in the honorary degree club. Some celebrities have multiples, including most U.S. Presidents.

Honorary degrees are and always have been a way for colleges to develop relationships with the rich and famous, leading to donations and plenty of publicity.

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