Washington University in St. Louis will award five honorary degrees during its 163rd Commencement Monday, May 13.

During the ceremony, the university will also bestow academic degrees on more than 3,400 members of the Class of 2024.

Jennifer Coolidge, an award-winning actor known for her numerous iconic roles in film and on television, will deliver the Commencement address and receive an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree.

The other honorary degree recipients and their degrees are:

  • Andrew C. Chan, MD, PhD, WashU alumnus and former faculty member, physician and researcher, and senior vice president of research-biology at Genentech, Doctor of Medicine;
  • Bethany L. Ehlmann, WashU alumna, Rhodes Scholar and professor of planetary science and the Allen V. C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair and director of the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology, Doctor of Science;
  • Kenneth S. Kranzberg, supporter of civic, social and arts organizations and chairman emeritus of Kranson Industries and TricorBraun, Doctor of Fine Arts; and
  • Nancy S. Kranzberg, WashU alumna, philanthropist, broadcaster and passionate supporter of the arts, Doctor of Fine Arts.

Honorary degree recipients

Coolidge has been a Hollywood mainstay ever since playing Stifler’s mom in the 1999 comedy classic film “American Pie.

She recently garnered critical acclaim for her portrayal of the wealthy, unstable and oblivious fan favorite character Tanya McQuoid in HBO’s “The White Lotus.” Her portrayal earned her a 2022 and 2023 Primetime Emmy Award; a 2022 and 2023 Critics Choice Award; a 2021 Gotham Award nomination; a 2023 Screen Actors Guild Award win and 2022 nomination; and a 2023 Golden Globe win and 2022 nomination.

Jennifer Coolidge

Coolidge will next be seen in Dito Montiel’s “Riff Raff” opposite Bill Murray, Ed Harris and Lewis Pullman. The crime comedy film centers on a former criminal whose ordinary life is thrown upside down when his family shows up for a long-awaited reckoning.

She recently wrapped production for the “Minecraft” movie based on the bestselling video game of all time with 300 million copies sold and nearly 140 million monthly active players. The film will be directed by Jared Hess, and Coolidge will star opposite Jack Black and Jason Momoa. 

Coolidge recently starred in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series “The Watcher,” opposite Naomi Watts. In 2020, Coolidge starred opposite Carey Mulligan in the Academy Award-nominated film “Promising Young Woman.”

Coolidge is beloved for her role as Paulette in the iconic film “Legally Blonde,” opposite Reese Witherspoon, and well-known for her frequent collaborations with director Christopher Guest in films such as “Best in Show” (2000), “A Mighty Wind” (2003) and “For Your Consideration” (2006).

Originally from Boston, Coolidge earned a bachelor’s degree in theater in 1985 from Emerson College in Boston and is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. She is a nine-year veteran of The Groundlings comedy troupe in Los Angeles. 

Chan is a physician-scientist known for pioneering research on immune system regulation and ongoing leadership in the development of new therapies for multiple sclerosis, breast cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma and other life-threatening diseases.

Andrew Chan

At Genentech, he oversees more than a thousand research scientists pursuing the discovery of new drugs through basic science breakthroughs in oncology, immunology, regenerative medicine, neuroscience and infectious diseases.

Chan is a 1986 graduate of the School of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program, which prepares physician-scientists to become leaders in biomedical research. Between 1994 and 2001, he was a Washington University faculty member and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. After beginning work at Genentech in 2001, he served on the faculty of the University of California, San Francisco, from 2002-2012.

Chan’s research explores malfunctions in immune system mechanisms that contribute to autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. He co-invented ocrelizumab, a treatment for multiple sclerosis. He oversaw early development of many other experimental therapies, including atezolizumab, which has played a significant role in breakthroughs in cancer immunotherapy.

A loyal supporter of Washington University, Chan serves on the School of Medicine’s National Council.

He is a Pew Scholar and a member of scientific advisory boards for the Lupus Research Alliance and the Arthritis Foundation. Other honors include the Chairman’s Award of Distinction from the American Federation for Aging Research and the Guin Warnock Award from the Arthritis Foundation.  

Ehlmann’s research focuses on the mineralogy and chemistry of planetary surfaces, remote sensing and astrobiology. Her primary focus is unraveling Mars’ environmental history and understanding water in the solar system. She has been committed to advancing scientific understanding of the solar system and pioneering approaches to remote sensing since her undergraduate years on the Danforth Campus.

Bethany Ehlmann

Ehlmann serves as the principal investigator of Lunar Trailblazer, a NASA mission focused on mapping the form, distribution and abundance of water on the Moon and understanding the lunar water cycle. She is a key contributor to several high-profile Mars missions and is a co-investigator for the EMIT space station-based imaging spectrometer. She is currently working to propose instrument and mission concepts for Europa, Enceladus, Venus, the Moon and asteroids.

In addition to her scientific research, Ehlmann is active in policy and outreach. She is president of the nonprofit Planetary Society and has served on National Academy of Sciences panels to develop national priorities for space science.

She generously supports opportunities for students to develop relevant skills for research in the space sciences and other pursuits. 

Originally from Tallahassee, Fla., she earned her bachelor’s degree at WashU in 2004, with majors in earth and planetary sciences and in environmental studies and a minor in mathematics, all in Arts & Sciences. She earned Master of Science degrees from the University of Oxford in environmental change and management in 2005 and in geography in 2007 as a Rhodes Scholar, and a master’s and a doctorate in geological sciences in 2010 as a National Science Foundation graduate fellow at Brown University.

Kenneth Kranzberg is one of St. Louis’ most prominent business leaders and one of its most exemplary philanthropists.

Kenneth Kranzberg
Kenneth Kranzberg

Born and raised in St. Louis, he attended the College of William & Mary and served in the U.S. Army before joining the family business in 1960. Recognizing new opportunities presented by high-density plastics, he helped TricorBraun grow to become the nation’s largest packaging distributor, and second largest in the world.

Kranzberg brings a similar acumen to St. Louis’ foremost civic and cultural institutions. He has served on the boards of Dance St. Louis, the Missouri Historical Society, Laumeier Sculpture Park, Nine PBS and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, among many others. As chairman of the board of Grand Center Inc., he was instrumental in revitalizing the Grand Center Arts District.

At WashU, he serves on both the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts National Council and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum’s Art Collection Committee. In 2006, the Kenneth and Nancy Kranzberg Art & Architecture Library was dedicated in their honor.

Among his many honors are the Variety St. Louis Man of the Year Award, the Anti-Defamation League’s Torch of Liberty Award and with Nancy, the Missouri Arts Award in Philanthropy, the Arts Advocacy Award from Missouri Citizens for the Arts and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arts and Education Council of St. Louis.

Nancy Kranzberg has created and led a wide range of public initiatives, nonprofit organizations and engagement opportunities designed to nurture St. Louis artists and support the city’s cultural infrastructure.

Nancy Kranzberg
Nancy Kranzberg

Raised in University City, Kranzberg studied education in WashU’s College of Arts & Sciences, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1966. She spent several years teaching second grade. She credits a friend from the WashU choir with inspiring family outings to, among other cultural institutions, the Saint Louis Art Museum, where she would serve as a docent and later joined the board.

A familiar voice on St. Louis airwaves, she hosts the KDHX “Arts Interview” program and is a regular commentator for St. Louis Public Radio. She has served on the boards of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Jazz at the Bistro, Laumeier Sculpture Park and The Sheldon Art Galleries, among others.

With her husband, Ken Kranzberg, she co-founded the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, which operates nearly a dozen studios, workspaces and venues in the Grand Center Arts District.

At WashU, she has served on the University Libraries’ National Council. The Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Studio for the Illustrated Book, which is part of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, was named in her honor. In 2006, WashU dedicated the Kenneth and Nancy Kranzberg Art & Architecture Library, housed in the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum building.

In 2001, she received both WashU’s Distinguished Alumni Award and a St. Louis Woman of Achievement Award.

For more information about the ceremony, visit the Commencement website.