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OU to Recognize Five Individuals With Honorary Degrees

OU to Recognize Five Individuals With Honorary Degrees

April 13, 2022

The University of Oklahoma will award honorary degrees to five outstanding individuals in recognition of their extraordinary achievements and generous service to others.

Receiving honorary degrees are:

  • James J. Mulva of De Pere, Wisconsin, a successful businessman and retired naval officer whose generosity has enhanced one of OU’s most treasured landmarks and will safeguard the rich tradition of the university’s ROTC programs
  • R. Lynn Riggs, an internationally recognized Cherokee poet, playwright, screenwriter and drama theorist whose work depicted both the allure and tragedy of pioneer life, who will be honored posthumously
  • Susan Stroman of New York City, a five-time Tony Award-wining director and critically acclaimed choreographer who has helped elevate OU musical theatre to even higher national stature
  • J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma City, former OU quarterback who made history by becoming the first African American elected to a statewide office in Oklahoma and the state’s first Black United States Representative
  • David Brooks of Washington, D.C., a bestselling author, New York Times columnist and the 2022 Commencement speaker

The university will confer the honorary degrees during its 2022 Commencement ceremony, scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, May 13, at The Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

“In their own unique ways, each of this year’s Honorary Degree recipients has enriched the world through their special talents and gifts, visionary leadership and service to others,” said OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. “Without question, their selfless dedication has changed the lives of countless people, and they are an inspiration to the entire OU Family. We are proud to confer the university’s highest honor upon these remarkable individuals.”

James Mulva

Born and raised in Wisconsin, James “Jim” Mulva attended the University of Oklahoma in the mid-1960s, where he was active in the Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. After earning his undergraduate degree and a Master of Business Administration, Mulva was commissioned as a lieutenant junior grade and served four years as a U.S. naval officer before beginning an almost-four-decades-long career with Phillips Petroleum Co. and ConocoPhillips, culminating in being named chairman and CEO from 1999 until his retirement in 2012.

On Sept. 22, 2018, Mulva and his wife, Miriam, announced a transformational $20 million gift in support of the OU ROTC program, with the goal of making a difference in the lives of countless young people who have decided to serve their country through military service. The gift through the Mulva Family Foundation will continue to have a far-reaching impact on ROTC programs and cadets at OU, as it has been used to create a scholarship endowment and to renovate the historic OU Armory, home to both OU’s Army and Naval/Marine ROTC, and the fourth floor of Cate Center 4, headquarters of OU’s Air Force ROTC.

The Mulva Family Foundation ROTC Scholarship Endowment offers scholarships for tuition and room and board for students who are enrolled in the Army, Naval/Marine or Air Force ROTC. The impact of these scholarships, along with the significant facility enhancements, will enable the university to continue serving its student service members for generations to come.

Mulva and his wife are known for their philanthropy and generosity toward youth programs, education, their alma maters and the Catholic Church. The couple have also supported OU’s David L. Boren College of International Studies, the Donald W. Reynolds Performing Arts Center and the President’s Associates.

Throughout his lifetime, Mulva has received many awards and honors, including selection as the International Petroleum Executive of the Year in 2002 and the American Petroleum Institute’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement in 2012. In 2005, he was awarded the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit by King Harald V of Norway. He also is a recipient of a presidential citation from the University of Texas and the Order of St. Gregory from the Vatican.

R. Lynn Riggs

Cherokee poet, playwright, screenwriter and drama theorist Rollie Lynn Riggs was born Aug. 31, 1899, southwest of Claremore. After attending the University of Oklahoma from 1920 to 1923, he went on to pursue a remarkable and productive career as a writer of plays and poetry, as well as screenplays for the big screen.

Early in his career, while serving as a Guggenheim Fellow, Riggs wrote Green Grow the Lilacs (1931). The play premiered on Broadway and became the basis for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s epic musical, Oklahoma! – arguably one of the most popular musicals of all time. The original Broadway production of Oklahoma! ran for a then-unprecedented 2,212 performances and made theater history in 1944 by winning a Pulitzer Prize.

During his lifetime, Riggs penned 37 plays, six of which were produced on Broadway.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Riggs worked periodically in Hollywood, and he wrote six original screenplays that were produced, plus one adaptation. Two of his notable screenplays are Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) and Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943). During World War II, Riggs regularly worked on screenplays for documentaries for War Department films.

Riggs also was the author of a collection of poetry, The Iron Dish (1931), and one posthumous collection, This Book, This Hill, These People (1982), and was enormously successful writing and publishing poetry in many of the most prestigious literary journals across the country, including The NationThe New RepublicThe New York Tribune and The Reviewer, among others.

Not all of Riggs’ work were romantic and light-hearted. Several of Riggs’ works, including The Cherokee Night (1932), delved into issues deemed at the time to be too sensitive, too serious and too controversial to be produced on the larger stage, leading some to say his examination of deeper societal and personal issues was well ahead of his time.

Riggs was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1948. He died in 1954 in New York City, and his award is being granted posthumously.

Susan Stroman

A five-time Tony Award-winning director and choreographer, Susan Stroman is one of the most celebrated and prolific musical theatre artists on Broadway today. She is best known for critically acclaimed Broadway hits like Crazy for YouContactThe Scottsboro Boys, as well as The Producers, which won a record 12 Tony Awards.

Broadway audiences have been captivated by Stroman’s choreography for over four decades. Her dances are richly infused with imagination, energy and precision, and she has mastered the art of telling a story through movement.

Beyond her Broadway work, Stroman is the first woman to direct and choreograph a full-length ballet for the New York City Ballet. Her award-winning talent has also extended to off-Broadway, ballet and opera productions; specials airing on PBS, CBS and HBO; and to feature films such as Center Stage, You’ve Got Mail and The Producers: The Movie Musical.

In 2017, Stroman was invited to OU as a guest artist-in-residence in the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre. During her visit, fine arts students learned from her firsthand in a variety of performance and mock audition sessions, in addition to discussions she led about the creative process and getting started in the business.

The impact of Stroman’s time at OU continues to benefit students, faculty and alumni today, helping elevate OU musical theatre to even higher national stature. In recent years, she has made herself available to the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre and its faculty for advice, consultation and mentoring, and she has maintained professional relationships with a number of OU graduates, hiring many of them to be part of her team.

Her connections to OU have inspired other high-profile theatre professionals to visit campus – generating even more opportunities for students.

In addition to her Tony Awards, Stroman’s work has earned many other accolades, including an EMMY Award, two Laurence Olivier Awards, six Drama Desk Awards and 12 Outer Critics Circle Awards. She is the recipient of the George Abbott Award for Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater and an inductee of the American Theater Hall of Fame in New York City.

J.C. Watts Jr.

A native of Eufaula, Oklahoma, J.C. Watts Jr. is a former United States congressman, celebrated athlete, business leader, and broadcast and cable news veteran.

While working toward his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma, he quarterbacked for the Sooners, leading the team to back-to-back Orange Bowl victories in 1980 and 1981, and was named most valuable player in both games. After graduating from OU in 1981, he continued his athletic pursuits in the Canadian Football League for Ottawa and Toronto, and in his rookie season was named MVP in the CFL’s championship game.

After retiring from football and returning to Oklahoma, Watts served as youth pastor at Sunnylane Baptist Church in Del City from 1987 to 1994. In 1990, Watts was elected to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission – becoming the first African American elected to a statewide office in Oklahoma. He became chairman of the commission before again making history in 1994, when he was elected Oklahoma’s first Black United States Representative.

In Congress, his colleagues quickly took note of his leadership qualities, selecting him to serve as chair of the House Republican Conference – one of the House’s top leadership positions. In this role, Watts provided daily council to the Speaker of the House and participated in biweekly meetings with the president of the United States.

Over the course of his eight years in Congress, Watts served on the Armed Services, Transportation and Banking committees, authoring legislation to create the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, on which he would later serve. In a bipartisan effort with the late Rep. John Lewis, the two congressmen developed legislation to establish the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.

Today, Watts serves as chairman, president and CEO of JC Watts Holdings, a multi-industry holding company headquartered in Oklahoma City, with operations in Texas, Oklahoma and Florida.

Watts also is chairman of the Black News Channel and serves on the corporate boards of Dillard’s Department Stores and Paycom Software.

David Brooks

One of America’s most influential thought leaders and a keen observer of the American way of life, David Brooks is best known as an opinion columnist for The New York Times, a position he has held since 2003. He also is a bestselling author and a regular commentator on “The PBS NewsHour” and National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

Brooks is serving as the keynote speaker for the University of Oklahoma’s 2022 Commencement ceremony. A popular speaker, he is noted for bringing audiences face-to-face with the spirit of our times with humor, insight and quiet passion. His writings and commentary explore culture, politics and the social sciences.

Brooks is author of several books, including the No. 1 New York Times bestseller, The Road to Character, which explores the journey to a deeper inner life and explains why selflessness leads to greater success. In his latest critically acclaimed book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, Brooks explores the four commitments that define a life of meaning and purpose: to a spouse and family, to a vocation, to a philosophy or faith, and to a community.

In The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens, Brooks uses the story of a fictional American couple to explain the importance of neuroscience and sociology in understanding America’s politics, culture and future.

His other books, New York Times bestseller Bobos in Paradise, as well as On Paradise Drive, are in a style he calls “comic sociology” – descriptions of how we live and “the water we swim in” that are as witty and entertaining as they are revealing and insightful.

Brooks teaches at Yale University, where he is a Jackson Senior Fellow. In 2010, he was named a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Brooks joined The Weekly Standard at the magazine’s inception, serving as senior editor. He also worked for nine years at The Wall Street Journal in a range of positions, including op-ed editor. Brooks has also been a contributing editor at Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly. He holds honorary degrees from Williams College, New York University, Brandeis University and Occidental College, among others.

For more information on OU’s May graduation ceremonies, visit or email

About the University of Oklahoma

Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. OU serves the educational, cultural, economic and health care needs of the state, region and nation. For more information visit