Billye Aaron will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Alverno College during the college’s Commencement ceremony on May 17 at Milwaukee’s American Family Field.
The educator, broadcaster, philanthropist, and wife of the late Hank Aaron will also deliver the Commencement address. Cecelia Gore, Alverno trustee and executive director of the Brewers Community Foundation, will preside at the Commencement ceremony.
“It is a joy and an honor to recognize Billye Aaron for her many contributions to education and to supporting the dreams of young people,” said Alverno President Andrea Lee. “The legacy she and Hank are creating is an enduring one. We are so grateful for her passion, commitment and support.”
As continued supporters of Alverno, Billye Aaron and her husband founded the Hank and Billye Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation. It awards scholarships to Milwaukee and Atlanta-area college students, including several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and children who lack adequate financial means. The foundation has granted “4 For 4 Scholarships” to high-achieving African-American women at Alverno who are pursuing careers in public service, social work, education and allied health.
Billye Aaron has been an educator in the Atlanta Public Schools and at Spelman College, Morehouse College and South Carolina State University. In 1968, she was hired as a co-host for WSB-TV’s “Today in Georgia,” becoming the first African-American woman in the Southeast to co-host a daily talk show. She also hosted a weekly talk show, “Billye,” on Milwaukee’s WTMJ-TV.
Mrs. Aaron had a 14-year tenure at the United Negro College Fund, including serving as vice president for the Southern region. A longtime member of the NAACP, she was named director emerita of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Billye Aaron has received multiple honorary degrees and honors, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Salute to Greatness Award.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Texas College and a master’s degree at Atlanta University, and she continued post-graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Commencement is such a momentous occasion for our students, and we want to joyfully celebrate all they’ve accomplished,” said Joseph Foy, Alverno’s vice president for Academic Affairs. “It will be particularly meaningful to do so with such an esteemed speaker and honoree who has helped make an education available to so many.”
The honorary degree, a Doctor of Letters, at Alverno College is bestowed only rarely, and then upon exceptional recipients who contribute significantly to the intellectual life, to the world of culture, or to the academic disciplines in which Alverno faculty are active. Honorees must also demonstrate deep commitment to community and to social causes, especially education and, through their lives and work, reflect the values embodied in the Alverno College Abilities.
The Commencement ceremony will be a joint celebration for undergraduate and graduate students. It is a ticketed event and marks the first time the college will hold Commencement off campus since it moved to its current campus in 1953. Moving the ceremony to the stadium is another way to recognize the many contributions of the Aarons there, as well as allow for a safe in-person event that can accommodate distancing for graduates and their families.
A leader in higher education innovation and Wisconsin’s first Hispanic-Serving Institution, Alverno has earned accolades for its ability-based, assessment-as-learning approach to education, emphasizing hands-on experience and develops in-demand skills. Founded in 1887 by the School Sisters of St. Francis, Alverno College is a four-year Catholic, liberal arts college that enables the academic, personal and professional development of its students within a collaborative and inclusive environment.