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UMaine Today Magazine

Lasting Impression

E.B. White Honorary Degree

Among the dignitaries at UMaine's commencement June 20, 1948: left to right, J. Seelye Bixler, president of Colby College; A.E. Mercker, USDA, Washington, D.C.; Judge John Peters, Ellsworth, Maine; Edward Chase, Cape Elizabeth, Maine; Gen. George Carter, Augusta, Maine; Edwin Sutermeister, Westbrook, Maine; writer E.B. White, North Brooklin, Maine; UMaine President Arthur Hauck; Rev. John Gowdey, Boston, Mass.; Edward Roderick, Augusta, Maine; Dr. Lennie Copeland, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Archival photos courtesy of Fogler Library Special Collections

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This year as part of commencement, the University of Maine will award honorary degrees to three distinguished community leaders: nutritionist and longtime professor Katherine Musgrave, wire lobster trap inventor James Knott Sr., and construction engineer Herbert Sargent. The three are the latest in a long list of eminent educators, writers, researchers, politicians, artists and humanitarians to be recognized by UMaine for their contributions. Through the years, those dignitaries have included President John F. Kennedy, authors Stephen and Tabitha King, and photographer Berenice Abbott. In 1948, UMaine became one of seven universities to award an honorary degree to The New Yorker magazine writer Elwyn Brooks White. By this time, E.B. White had published One Man's Meat and Stuart Little; those books were followed in the 1950s by Charlotte's Web and the Strunk and White edition of The Elements of Style.

White disliked ceremonies and public appearances. His stepson, Roger Angell, writing last year in The New Yorker in observance of the 20th anniversary of White's death, described the day E.B.W., known as "Andy," received an honorary degree from Dartmouth, also in 1948: "And when the time came for the encomiums and the enrobing, there in the sunshine at Hanover, he went on, his hood 'white, quite big, and shaped like a loose-fitting horse collar' became entangled with the honoree in the next seat, Ben Ames Williams: Andy's worst dreams come true. 'When I got seated the thing was up over my face, as in falconry,' he continues. 'A fully masked Doctor of Letters, a headless poet.' After that, he stayed home, even passing up an invitation in 1963 to go to Washington and receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Lyndon Johnson." Luckily for UMaine, which held its commencement ceremony a week after Dartmouth's, White had committed in April to come to Orono.


UMaine Today Magazine
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