"In bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.”
The quote above was taken from James Freedman's book, Liberal Education and the Public Interest. Freedman (pictured left), the former President of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, rightfully believed that honorary degrees should be given to those who demonstrate truly valuable contributions to a university and to mankind at large, and who possess the ideal values that society holds dear. He argued that the degree is sometimes wrongfully given too freely to undeserving celebrities, "who are often famous principally for being famous." Freedman's ideas influenced me this week to think about important individuals in my field, sports psychology, who would be deserving of the honorary degree and recognition for their achievements. Since USC does not yet have a sports psychology program, I could not nominate an alumnus of the school. However, there is no scarcity of potential nominees in the United States in general, so my search for a candidate was still extensive and difficult to choose.
A leader is someone who not only sets an example for others, but more importantly influences their field in a way which greatly advances the study and practice of that discipline. For this reason, only leaders should be nominated to receive the esteemed USC Honorary Degree, which is given to "individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in...the professions" and "who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part." These nominees should project a positive, model image of what the university pictures as ideal, and they should be "widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor" by their colleagues. The recipient of the honorary degree will also give the commencement speech for that year; an honor in itself. This speech is normally about current issues in the world, as it serves to send off the graduating class with high moral hopes and expectations of making a difference in the world.
I believe that Kirsten Peterson, PhD, fulfills the requirements for an ScD (Doctor of Science)honorary degree recipient perfectly, and is the most deserving individual of this gift in the field of sports psychology. Not only is she a leader in his endeavors, but she shows her care for athletes and human-kind in general through her practice. Peterson, one of three full-time sports psychologists of the US Olympic Committee in Colorado, serves to aid the US Olympic athletes by mentally training them for the stressors of the Games. She is also the President of the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 47 (Exercise and Sport Psychology), which serves to register and link sports psychologists all over America. In addition, Peterson is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology (AAASP), and is registered as a "Certified Consultant," which allows the general public to contact her about problems with their training or counseling needs. Because she does not limit her clientell to Olympic athletes, and allows her business information to be widely displayed on the World Wide Web, she opens her office door to masses of people of all demographics. I believe this philanthropic gesture is one point which makes her ideal for the honorary degree, as the recipient should be benevolent to all people, no matter how talented or famous.
Another reason I nominate Peterson is because she looks at athletes as people, and not as machines whose sole purpose is to attain a gold medal. She was a firm supporter of TeamUSAnet, which serves to help retired Olympians and Olympic hopefuls after they have descended from their peak performance time in their lives. Monster.com and the US Olympic Committee worked closely to first study the unhappiness of retired Olympians, then created the program to help them find pleasurable jobs after their retirement from the Games. Her support of this initiative shows her level of commitment to the athletes she counsels; even after the player is finished with his or her Olympic career, she is still concerned about their well-being and psychological state.
Considering all requirements for the USC ScD honorary degree, I believe Kirsten Peterson would be a wonderful candidate for the privilege. Her commencement speech would be one of motivation and inspiration, since that is what she does every day for her clients. She would most likely speak of the future Olympic Games in 2008, because it is most relevant to her field of study, but she would probably also compare the similarities of the Olympians to the graduates sitting in front of her, so as prove to them that they can achieve great heights if they are well prepared. All in all, she would bring encouragement to the hearts of the next generation.