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2023 honorary degree recipients announced

The University of Utah Board of Trustees announced that Frances P. Battle, William “Bill” Higuchi, Richard E. “Dick” Marriott and Camilla Smith will receive honorary doctorate degrees from the university this year.

Battle is the principal of Salt Lake City’s Nibley Park Middle School and a 40-year veteran of public education in Utah. Higuchi, a distinguished professor emeritus from the College of Pharmacy, co-founded multiple companies in the biopharmaceutical industry. Marriott is the chair of Host Hotels & Resorts, a hotel real estate investment trust (REIT) and chair of First Media Corporation, a privately held broadcasting and investment group. Smith is past president of the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation and an active philanthropic leader in Utah and nationwide.

All four extraordinary business, education and philanthropy leaders will be honored at the general commencement ceremony, set for Thursday, May 4 at 6 p.m. in the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

“This year’s honorary degree recipients have personified service, teaching, business acumen and generosity during their professional careers,” said Glenn Seninger, chair of the Board of Trustees’ honors committee. “More than that, they live these deeply held beliefs and values each and every day. These selfless individuals truly represent the motivations and actions to which we all aspire.”

Honorary degrees are awarded to individuals who have achieved distinction in academic pursuits, the arts, professions, business, government, civic affairs or in service to the university. The Honors Committee, which includes representatives from the faculty, student body and Board of Trustees, reviews nominations and then consults with an advisory group of faculty, staff and administrators for additional input. Finalists are presented to the university president, who then selects the recipients.

About the honorees

For more than four decades, Frances P. Battle has dedicated her life to educating Salt Lake City’s youth. She started her career as an English teacher at Jordan Intermediate School in 1975, taught at Glendale Middle School, served as principal of Northwest Middle School and Bryant Middle School and currently works as the principal at Nibley Park Middle School. Many students who attended and graduated from the university did so with her encouragement, mentoring, letters of recommendation and willingness to engage students, faculty and parents in systemic changes at the schools she led.

Inspired by the many students whose lives she has touched, Battle says, “It is important to remain focused and ‘Be the best you that you can be.’ You must make choices and decisions that are in the best interest of yourself and those with whom you are engaged. There are those who will try to dim your light. However, it’s most important that you carry a torch that includes respect, kindness, patience, and love for others.”

A strong advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion, Battle serves on the Pastor France A. Davis Scholarship Fund and Zions Bank Community boards and was previously on the board of Ballet West. In 2020, Battle was recognized by the Utah Jazz as one of the team’s Black History Month honorees. Battle graduated from Morris Brown College, an HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia, and earned a master’s degree in education from Westminster College in 1978. She is married to Jerome Battle, former chief information officer of Salt Lake County.

Watch the video about Francis P. Battle, here.

William “Bill” Higuchi is a longtime U professor of pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry, where his tenure spanned from 1982 to 2007. Higuchi’s academic career started in 1959 at the University of Wisconsin, where he worked for three years, before spending 20 years at the University of Michigan. Higuchi earned a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of California-Berkeley.

Higuchi says he was inspired to solve complex physiological problems and improve lives through the creation of novel and unmet high-need pharmaceutical and biologics. His research focused on optimizing drug transport efficiency through the skin, mucosal membranes and within the gastrointestinal tract, and improving drug residence time inside target sites of the body. He also pioneered tooth and bone preservation bio-mineralization models and was a co-founder and board chair of Utah biopharmaceutical companies TheraTech, Lipocine, Spriaso and Aciont. Higuchi has received an honorary degree from the University of Michigan and Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun. He serves on the advisory board of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, which works to preserve the Japanese internment center where he met his late wife Setsuko as a child during World War II.

Higuchi would advise members of the Class of 2023: “Never let unexpected hardships deter you in your pursuits of having a good family, lifelong friends and significance in your career. You can achieve whatever you want in life if you’re willing to work hard at it.”

Watch the video about William “Bill” Higuchi, here.

Richard “Dick” Marriott began his career in the hospitality industry working as a teenager in his parents’ Hot Shoppes restaurants. He officially joined the Marriott company as a manager in 1965 after graduating from Harvard Business School. A U alum (B.S. ’63, finance), Marriott has been actively engaged with charitable and nonprofit organizations. He has served as chair of both the Polynesian Cultural Center and Bridges from School to Work, as well as on the boards of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the National Ability Center and as a member of the National Advisory Council of Brigham Young University’s Marriott School. Under his leadership, The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation has been involved with mental health initiatives through the University of Utah’s Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI) and continues to support fine arts, business and the Marriott Library at the university.

Much of his life has been guided by his time at the university, Marriott says. “I had fabulous opportunities in the hospitality industry. But the university gave me the confidence to go out there and do a whole bunch of things.”

A dedicated philanthropist, Marriott and his wife Nancy, also a graduate of the U (B.S. ’63, elementary education), signed the Giving Pledge in 2013.

Watch the video about Richard “Dick” Marriott, here.

Longtime philanthropist and supporter of education, Camilla Smith is a trustee of many national and community boards, including the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, the PBS Foundation, the NPR Foundation, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the University of California—Berkeley Library and the Science Friday Initiative. Smith received her bachelor’s degree in English and French from Brigham Young University in 1968 and her master’s degree in English Education from Columbia University in 1972.

She worked in publishing, including for G.P. Putnam’s Sons Publishers and Columbia University Teacher’s College Press and at the New York City Board of Education. She is the current editor of UC Berkeley’s Bancroftiana, a newsletter about the institution’s special collections. Her husband George Smith, Jr., is the co-founder and president of Signature Books. Most recently, she is the past president and trustee of the Leakey Foundation, whose mission is to increase scientific knowledge, education and public understanding of human origins. The Leakey Foundation’s communication and outreach award is named after her.

Through both teaching and editing, Smith says, she feels she changed the world. She is surprised to receive an honorary degree from the U. “I’m honored that they would think somebody who, basically, just does volunteer work should receive this degree,” Smith said. “But I volunteer because I believe it’s important to give, simply because the job needs to be done, not for purposes of having your name on something.”

Watch the video about Camilla Smith, here.