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West Virginia University to bestow Honorary Doctorates to five extraordinary people at May Commencement ceremonies

Honorary Doctorate

West Virginia University will award four Honorary Doctoral Degrees and one Presidential Honorary Doctoral Degree this May, recognizing individuals who enriched our world through their talents, their passion and their commitment to giving back. This year’s honorees are:

• Margie Mason, Doctor of Humane Letters, Reed College of Media

• Don Panoz, Doctor of Business, College of Business and Economics

• Jayne Anne Phillips, Doctor of Humane Letters, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

• Kathryn Vecellio, Presidential Doctor of Counseling Psychology, College of Education and Human Services

• William Harrison “Bill” Withers, Jr., Doctor of Music, College of Creative Arts

“At West Virginia University, we are always challenging ourselves to go first, to reach higher and to achieve more. These individuals have done that throughout their careers,” said President Gordon Gee. “They are truly inspirational, especially to the students who can look to them as they chart their own paths in the world.”

Provost Joyce McConnell, who chairs the selection committee for the university’s Honorary Degree program, said she was “humbled and astounded” by this year’s honorees. “These are people who have committed to an artistic identity, to an avocation or to a vision for changing the world,” she said. “Every one of them embodies the commitment to excellence that is at the core of our university mission.”

This year’s Honorary Degree recipients are either natives of West Virginia, graduates of WVU, or both. They have all been honored nationally and even internationally for their achievements in their chosen fields.

Margie Mason is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist who has reported for The Associated Press from more than 20 countries. She has been based in Asia for the past 14 years, first as a regional medical writer and then as Indonesia bureau chief.

Mason’s investigative journalism has long focused on women, children, poverty and human rights abuses. In 2016, she was part of a four-member team of female reporters who won more than 30 journalism awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, for groundbreaking work that exposed a slave island in a remote part of Indonesia where fishermen were held in cages and forced to work for years.

The series of stories traced the supply chains for some of America’s largest grocery stores and pet food brands—including Wal-Mart, Kroger, Fancy Feast and Iams—and demonstrated the ways these companies were tainted by slave-caught fish. The impact of publication was powerful: laws were passed, companies were shut down, perpetrators were jailed and more than 2,000 slaves were freed and sent home.

Mason has covered many major international stories over the years, including SARS, bird flu, the 2004 Asian tsunami and the hunt for the Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared in 2014. In 2009, she co-wrote an award-winning project about the rise of global drug resistance. She is among a small number of foreign journalists to ever report from inside North Korea.

A native of Daybrook, Mason graduated from WVU’s Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism (now the Reed College of Media) in 1997. She started her reporting career at age 19 as an intern at The Dominion Post in Morgantown and later worked for the AP in Charleston. In 2000, she reported overseas for the first time, covering the 25th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon in Vietnam with her mentor, the late legendary AP reporter George Esper, who went on to teach journalism at WVU.

Mason was awarded a journalism fellowship for Asian studies in 1999 from the University of Hawai’i. She was also a 2009 Nieman fellow at Harvard University, where she studied in the School of Public Health.

Read the full story on WVU Today.