Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Oprah Winfrey receive honorary degrees from Harvard University

CAMBRIDGE — Harvard University awarded an honorary degree to Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino at the college’s 362nd commencement this morning, praising his decades of service and strong leadership following the Boston Marathon bombings.

Menino was one of nine people, including entertainment titan Oprah Winfrey, to receive the honor during the college’s morning exercises. Winfrey is scheduled to deliver the address at the afternoon exercises.

Provost Alan M. Garber noted Menino’s message to Boston residents just after the attacks, when the city was reeling. “Nothing will keep us down,” the mayor had said.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

A visibly moved Menino received a standing ovation from the crowd gathered in Tercentenary Theater on a hot and humid morning.

Afterward, a still-robed Menino said he was humbled and honored by the degree and that it was unexpected.

“I never imagined I would be honored by Harvard,” he told reporters.

He had some advice for the Class of 2013: “Be focused. Have a plan.”

In addition to Winfrey and Menino, Harvard conferred honorary degrees upon scientist Robert May; Dr. Donald R. Hopkins who has fought to eradicate smallpox and Guinea worm disease in Africa; economist Partha Dasgupta; musician Jose Antonio Abreu; religious historian Elaine Pagels; C. Dixon Spangler, Jr., former president of Harvard’s Board of Overseers and the University of North Carolina; and MIT biologist JoAnne Stubbe.

In a statement summarizing Menino’s accomplishments, Harvard said it based its selection on the Hyde Park native’s success as the city’s chief executive officer for the past 20 years.

“As Boston’s longest-serving mayor, Thomas M. Menino has shepherded the cradle of the American Revolution into the 21st century. In wedding major development projects to a focus on neighborhood renewal, Menino earned overwhelming popular support for his 20-year stewardship of what he often calls ‘the greatest city on Earth,’” the university stated.

The school also credited Menino for his leadership in other issues.

“As mayor, Menino has been an early and outspoken advocate for public health initiatives, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights, and gun control, issues that occasionally brought him into the national spotlight,’’ the school wrote. “In April, he helped guide a grieving city and nation through the Boston Marathon bombings; under his watch, the city received praise for its handling of the medical and police response to the crisis.

The Globe today reported about the Harvard honorary degree for Menino, who did not earn a bachelor’s degree until 1988, and did so only after his daughter had graduated from college.