.

Bob Dylan Receives Honorary Princeton Degree

Princeton recognizes Dylan's impact on American music with an honorary degree

Bob Dylan
Chris Wood/Express/Getty Images
July 9, 1970

Princeton, N. J. — Yes, it's true, Bob Dylan accepted an honorary degree from Princeton University, but first-hand observers say he was very nervous and hesitant about the whole thing and seemed "appropriately out of place" during the ceremonies.

Dylan checked in at the Princeton Inn the night before graduation with his wife, Sara, David Crosby and an aide, Ben Slazman. The next day, June 9th, he appeared in Nassau Hall's exquisitely appointed Faculty Room at 10 AM, an hour before graduation ceremonies were to begin.

"He came romping in in his shades and he was very nervous," reported Meir Ribilow, Class Day Chairman and one of a committee that chose the honorary degree recipients.

Ribilow, who spoke with Dylan briefly, said he found him "extremely uncommunicative," tending to mumble and speak through either Crosby or Salzman. Another student, Brent Ogden, said Dylan would ask either Salzman or Crosby if he wanted to know something, or "even if he wanted a glass of water," and then the message would be relayed.

Because Mrs. Coretta King, another of the nine persons honored with special degrees by Princeton that day, was late arriving, the ceremonies were delayed slightly and Dylan seemed to grow more uncomfortable. At one point a number of photographers and reporters began asking questions and taking photos, and he stomped out of the Faculty Room. "I don't like it. They're asking questions," he told his wife in the hall.

Among other persons receiving degrees were Mrs. King and Walter Lippmann, 81, nationally known liberal commentator and columnist. Mrs. King's honorary degree was a Doctorate in Humanity; Lippmann's was an honorary Doctor of Law degree. Dylan chatted briefly with Mrs. King, but eyewitnesses say neither Dylan or Lippmann seemed aware of the other's presence.

Because of the heat and presumably in sympathy with the majority of the day's 1200 graduating seniors, Dylan at first refused to wear a black robe. (All but 25 of the graduates refused to wear the traditional robes. Instead, they donated the money they would have spent on caps and gowns to the Princeton Community Fund, an organization which supports antiwar and antidraft activities.) According to Ogden, Dylan seemed to be so upset just before the ceremony that he started for the door, but "saw so many people outside" he changed his mind.

When the ceremonies did begin, Dylan put on an academic gown over his dark-blue, pin-striped suit, but refused the "mortar-board" cap. He also tied a white arm-band on, like the majority of the graduating seniors. The band was engraved with the peace symbol and the insignia of the graduating class, a number "70."

Honorary degree recipients are not required to make speeches, so Dylan was silent during the reading of citations. Ribilow, however, who was near Dylan on the outdoor stage, said he was "ostentatiously listening to what was being said, which was more than the other recipients." He smiled slightly when mention was made of his "approaching the perilous age of 30."

Dylan was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Music by University President Robert F. Goheen. It was inscribed in Latin on a parchment scroll, and said: "Since it is fitting that to those who have conferred the greatest benefits either upon their country or upon mankind as a whole the greatest honor should be given and awarded, and since Bob Dylan not only has so brilliantly distinguished himself in good works and Carminibis Canendis" (roughly translated "his forte") "that he is deservedly worthy of the highest public honors. Therefore we the President and Trustees of Princeton University to this same person do give the title and degree of Doctor of Music, and confer the power of enjoying the individual rights and privileges wherever they may pertain to this degree."

A less formal citation was also read. It said in part: "Paradoxically, though he is known to millions, he shuns publicity and organizations, preferring the solidarity of his family and isolation from the world. Although he is approaching the perilous age of 30 his music remains the authentic expression of the disturbed and concerned conscience of Young America."

All during the ceremony, Dave Crosby was licking a half orange and looking greatly amused. When asked what he was doing with Dylan, Crosby laughed: "I was standing by the New Jersey Turnpike, looking for America and Bob saw a freak and stopped to pick me up."

Salzman said he felt Dylan had decided to accept the degree as a gesture to the student movement and to what has been happening on campuses across the country.

A source at Princeton said Dylan had called after he'd been notified that he was to receive the honor, "to find out just what kind of a degree it was."

After the ceremony, Dylan left the stage, took off his robe and with his party, got into a waiting car and drove on down the road.

This story is from the July 9th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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