As part of the Class of 2024 commencement exercises, Occidental College will award four honorary degrees.


Joseph Duff headshot with blue polo shirt
Photo by Kevin Burke.

Joseph Hairston Duff ’68 came to Occidental College as a political science major. A recipient in the first year of Oxy’s Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship, he was also a three-year Oxy footballer and an organizer of the College’s first Black Student Caucus. Additionally, he took part in Oxy’s urban studies and pre-law curriculum and its two-year Air Force ROTC program, graduating with an Air Force Reserve 2nd Lt. commission.

Along with his wife, trustee emerita Alice Walker Duff ’69 H’02, he continues as an active member of the College's Black Alumni Organization. The couple were among the initiators of the College’s Ubuntu [“I am because we are”] Fund. The fund seeks to support the College’s now-longstanding commitment to diversity, excellence and equity, leading to the thriving of underrepresented students while at Oxy and through their lifetimes.

Duff earned his juris doctor degree from the UCLA School of Law in 1971, after which he served four years in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps at Griffis AFB in New York. There, as a JAG captain, he initiated the base’s USAF Judiciary Area Defense Counsel Program.

Returning to Los Angeles in 1976, he entered private practice of law in his own firm, Shockley, Duff & Hart-Nibbrig, and became a prominent civil rights attorney, focusing on the efficacy of racial and ethnic affirmative action in education and law.  He served as a leader of the NAACP Los Angeles Branch and was its branch President from 1989-94.  Simultaneously, he worked as a legal advisor to the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, and from 1998-2008, as Senior Staff Counsel for the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

Duff closed his legal career while serving as Senior Counsel and Interim General Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the historic and premier law firm on issues of racial justice, from 2008-13.  

In recognition of his exemplary service, Duff has received various awards for public service and civil rights, including the Loren Miller Legal Services Award in Public interest from the State Bar of California, the Clarence Darrow Foundations’ Advocacy Award, the Los Angeles NAACP’s Judge Thomas l. Griffith Award and an NAACP Image Award. He has been honored by many peer organizations, including the California Association of Black Lawyers, the Occidental College Black Alumni, the UCLA Law School Black Alumni, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference/LA, and the Community Relations Conference of Southern California.

In 1990, the dean and faculty of the UCLA School of Law established the Joseph Hairston Duff Public Interest Award, then awarded annually at the law school to the most outstanding second-year student working in the public interest. As a co-recipient with his wife, he also received the prestigious Occidental College Alumni Seal Award in 1992.

Since 1976 and continuing to the present, Joe has devoted many hours to his passion for genealogy and family history, bringing information and happiness to countless friends and family.


Ed Ruscha hedshot with black blazer
Photo by Sten Rosenlund.

Ed Ruscha was born in 1937 in Omaha, Nebraska, and grew up in Oklahoma City. In 1956, he took Route 66 to California, which would become a central part of his story as an artist. Settling in Los Angeles, he studied art at Chouinard Art Institute (now California Institute of the Arts) and had an early job as a commercial illustrator. In the 1960s, inspired by artists like Raymond Hains, René Magritte, Jasper Johns, and Kurt Schwitters, Ruscha became a vibrant part of the art scene surrounding Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles.

Ruscha has been living and working in the L.A. area for over sixty years. Through his innovative approach to painting, drawing, and photography, Ruscha has influenced artists worldwide and is considered to be one of the most important figures in contemporary art today. In early photographic work, Ruscha created documentary images and books full of swimming pools, parking lots, buildings on Sunset Boulevard, gas stations, and many other features of L.A. life. In his paintings and drawings, these same subjects combine with language to poetically evoke the changing fabric of the city through themes of evolution and destruction. His work is the subject of a current retrospective at MoMA in New York; this exhibition will open at LACMA in April 2024.


G. Gabrielle Starr headshot with blue blazer and top

G. Gabrielle Starr is a national voice on access to college for students of all backgrounds and on the future of higher education. She took office as the 10th president of Pomona College in 2017 with a track record of promoting greater access to higher education.

Starr is a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and author of three books, with her latest, Just in Time: Temporality, Aesthetic Experience, and Cognitive Neuroscience, published by MIT Press in June 2023. She offers a compelling case for reaching across academic disciplines to spark intellectual discovery, having started her academic career as a scholar of English literature and, over time, extending her work into neuroscience and the arts. Her writing has appeared in The New York TimesThe Chronicle of Higher EducationThe Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Boston Globe, among other publications.

Starr served on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s California Higher Education Recovery with Equity Taskforce, charged with envisioning a new approach for post-secondary education preparation and workforce readiness as the state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Today she serves on the board of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and the executive committee of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU). A member of the Council on Competitiveness, Starr also serves on the boards of Cedars-Sinai and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and on the advisory board of the Everychild Foundation. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020.


Lindy West headshot with black and green and pink floral dress
Photo by Jenny Jimenez.

Lindy West ’04 is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman and the essay collections Shit, Actually and The Witches Are Coming. She is co-host of the NPR podcast Text Me Back. Her work has also appeared in This American Life, the New York Times, The Guardian, Cosmopolitan, GQ, Vulture, Jezebel, and others. Lindy was a writer and executive producer on Shrill, the Hulu comedy adapted from her memoir, and co-wrote the independent feature film Thin Skin. She is the co-founder of the reproductive rights destigmatization campaign #ShoutYourAbortion.



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