USC 2024 honorary degree recipients: Jon M. Chu, Maria Rosario Jackson, Billie Jean King and Marcia McNutt

USC’s 2024 honorary degree recipients are (from left) Jon M. Chu, Maria Rosario Jackson, Billie Jean King and Marcia McNutt. (Photos, from left/Art Streiber, Aaron Jay Young, Howard Schatz and Chris Michel)


Four trailblazers to receive honorary degrees at USC commencement

COMMENCEMENT: Honorary degree recipients include an award-winning filmmaker, a sports legend, a geophysicist and the Los Angeles-raised chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. 

April 12, 2024 By Leigh Hopper

USC President Carol Folt will award honorary degrees to four trailblazers in sports, the arts and science during the university’s 141st commencement ceremony on May 10 in Alumni Memorial Park.

This year’s recipients, selected by a committee of students and faculty, are filmmaker and alumnus Jon M. Chu; alumna Maria Rosario Jackson, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts; sports legend Billie Jean King; and geophysicist Marcia McNutt, who is president of the National Academy of Sciences. Chu is also this year’s commencement speaker.

Approximately 19,000 degrees will be conferred during USC’s commencement this year, including nearly 1,600 doctorate degrees, either at the main ceremony in Alumni Memorial Park or at one of the satellite ceremonies across campus. More than 60,000 people are expected to attend this year’s event.

USC 2024 honorary degree recipients: Jon M. Chu
(Photo/Art Streiber)

Jon M. Chu

Jon M. Chu is a director, producer and storyteller known for his visually stunning films. His most recent work, Wicked, is a highly anticipated two-part adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, the first of which will debut later this year. In 2018, his film Crazy Rich Asians became a worldwide phenomenon. Nominated for numerous awards, the film is among the top 10 highest-grossing romantic comedies ever. It was also the first contemporary studio picture in more than 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast, opening up a new chapter for Asian American representation in Hollywood. Chu has been recognized on The Hollywood Reporter’s “Power 100” list, and he was named among Variety’s “New Hollywood Leaders.” An alumnus of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Chu is a mentor and role model for students and fellow alumni. He also funds the Jon M. Chu APAA Cinematic Arts Scholarship, which is awarded to students whose projects focus on Asian Pacific culture in film, television and interactive media.

USC 2024 honorary degree recipients: Maria Rosario Jackson
(Photo/Aaron Jay Young)

Maria Rosario Jackson

Maria Rosario Jackson is the first African American and the first Mexican American woman to lead the National Endowment for the Arts. Prior to her current role, she served on the National Council on the Arts for nearly a decade as an appointee of President Barack Obama. Her love of the arts stems from her parents, who encouraged her to explore and affirm her cultural heritage while growing up in Los Angeles. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, her master’s degree from the USC Price School of Public Policy and a doctoral degree in urban planning from UCLA. Her work blends social science with arts and humanities-based approaches to comprehensive community revitalization and systems change. She also examines the dynamics of race, ethnicity and the roles that arts and culture play in building thriving communities.

USC 2024 honorary degree recipients: Billie Jean King
(Photo/Howard Schatz)

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King’s legacy spans from sports and culture to philanthropy and equal rights. The iconic tennis star and champion for social justice was named among Life magazine’s “The 100 Most Important Americans of the Past Century,” and she was the first female athlete to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During her legendary tennis career, King won 39 Grand Slam singles, doubles, and mixed doubles titles, including a record 20 Wimbledon championships. Her historic win over Bobby Riggs in 1973’s “Battle of the Sexes” was a watershed moment in sports history that inspired a critically acclaimed film released in 2017. She is the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association, the Women’s Sports Foundation and the Billie Jean King Foundation, which is supporting the next generation of leaders through sports, education and activism. Her humanitarian advocacy includes her role as honorary lifetime president of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. This year she will become the first female athlete to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

USC 2024 honorary degree recipients: Marcia McNutt
(Photo/Chris Michel)

Marcia McNutt

Marcia McNutt is president of the National Academy of Sciences, a trailblazing geophysicist and former editor-in-chief of the prestigious Science family of academic journals. During her tenure as director of the U.S. Geological Survey, the science arm of the Department of the Interior, she responded to major disasters that have included earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and Japan, as well as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. McNutt led a team of government scientists and engineers who helped contain the oil, cap the well and estimate the rate of oil discharge during the biggest marine oil spill in history. As president and chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, she oversaw the development of the first deep-sea cabled observatory in U.S. waters and the integration of artificial intelligence into autonomous vehicles for undersea exploration. She is a veteran of more than a dozen deep-sea expeditions.