Justice Anthony Kennedy, artist Faith Ringgold receive honorary degrees from W&M

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(WYDaily/Courtesy of Jim Agnew/William & Mary)

WILLIAMSBURG — William & Mary will honor Anthony Kennedy, retired associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Faith Ringgold, renowned artist, writer, teacher and lecturer, during its Commencement weekend May 21-23.

The university recently awarded the two with honorary degrees. Due to COVID precautions, both received their degrees during private events ahead of Commencement weekend and recorded brief remarks for graduates and families. Their remarks will be shared at the university’s six outdoor ceremonies at Zable Stadium.

Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court in 2018 after serving 30 years on the nation’s highest court. Kennedy took senior status on the Supreme Court. In that capacity, he continues to work in his chambers on many matters. He was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and took his seat on Feb. 18, 1988. Ringgold is renowned for her mixed media work in painting, sculpture, fabric and performance.

“It was a privilege to present honorary degrees on Justice Kennedy and Faith Ringgold earlier this month,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “Each has advanced the values of pluralistic democracy, via transformative jurisprudence and transformative art. Each has persevered in their vision of a better world, empowering voices that have not been heard. The pandemic changes the rhythms of our ceremony this year but not our joyfulness and gratitude that they are joining us to share their wisdom with our graduates.

Justice Anthony Kennedy
Justice Anthony Kennedy (Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

Born in Sacramento, California, Kennedy received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and his law degree from Harvard Law School. He was in private practice in San Francisco and Sacramento in the 1960s and 1970s and taught as a professor of constitutional law at the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific. Kennedy continues to teach at McGeorge School of Law, where he is the longest-serving active faculty member.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford nominated Kennedy to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, making him the youngest federal appellate judge in the country at age 38. A decade later, he succeeded Lewis F. Powell Jr. on the U.S. Supreme Court, confirmed by the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support in a 97-to-zero vote.

During his career, Kennedy also served as a member of the California Army National Guard, on the board of the Federal Judicial Center and on two committees of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

He is currently a member of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Board of Trustees, and spoke at William & Mary Law School in 2014.

Faith Ringgold
Faith Ringgold (Photo by Grace Matthews)

Ringgold created her first paintings, the American People series, in the 1960s. During the next decade, she traveled to Europe, Nigeria and Ghana to study masks, which have served as her greatest influence. In the 1970s, she also began making soft sculptures and working on a Tibetan art form framed in fabric.

Perhaps best known for her exceptional story-quilts, Ringgold began her work in fabric in the 1980s with the quilt, “Echoes of Harlem,” in collaboration with her mother. She created her first story quilt — “Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima?” — in 1983 as a way “to publish her unedited words.”

Ringgold has published myriad children’s books. “Tar Beach” has won more than 20 awards, including the Caldecott Honor and the Coretta Scott King award for best-illustrated children’s book. The book is based on a story quilt of the same name, now in the permanent collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. In 2010, HBO created an animated version of “Tar Beach,” narrated by Natalie Cole.

Ringgold’s autobiography, “We Flew Over the Bridge: The Memoirs of Faith Ringgold,” was released in 1995.

Ringgold received her undergraduate and master’s degrees from the City College of New York. She is a professor emeritus of art at the University of California in San Diego and has received more than 20 honorary degrees.

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