The Medal for Distinguished Achievement originated with the Trustees' Honorary Degrees and Awards Committee on June 18, 1992, and was formalized by resolution of the University Trustees on October 20, 1992.

The resolution stipulated that the Medal be awarded "to those individuals whose performance is in keeping with the highest goals of the University and who have contributed to the world through innovative acts of scholarship, scientific discovery, artistic creativity or societal leadership." These criteria for awarding a Medal are similar, though not identical, to those for an Honorary Degree.

Twenty one Medals have been awarded since 1993, to the following individuals on the following occasions:


Raymond G. Perelman, Philanthropist

In recognition of his untiring efforts and immeasurable contributions to the health and well-being, education and cultural opportunities in Philadelphia and beyond. Presented at the Perelman School of Medicine Naming Celebration.


Wangari Maathai
Founder of the Green Belt Movement

In recognition of her innumerable contributions to world peace, the environment, and human society as recipient of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Presented at the Provost's Global Forum.


Wole Soyinka
Dramatist, poet, director, novelist, essayist

In recognition of his contributions to world literature and human society as recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature. Presented at a lecture sponsored by the Office of the Provost and the African Studies Center.


Leonard Lauder

In recognition of his distinguished service to the University and being appointed an Emeritus trustee. Presented at a Trustee dinner, November 2003.


Arlen Specter
U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania

In recognition of his distinguished career in public service and of his efforts to increase funding for biomedical research at the federal level. Presented at the Fall Trustee Board meeting, October 2002.


William A. Wulf
National Academy of Engineering

In recognition of his ground-breaking accomplishments in computer science and inspired leadership in engineering education. Presented at the sesquicentennial celebration of the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) at the University of Pennsylvania.


Alan MacDiarmid
and Hideki Shirakawa

two Penn chemists

In recognition of their achievement as recipients of the 2000 Nobel Prize in chemistry. Presented at a symposium by the Laboratory of Research on the Structure of Matter and the National Science Foundation.


Sandra Day O'Connor
Associate Justice
U.S. Supreme Court

In recognition of her life and career as a dedicated judge and exemplary public servant. Presented at the sesquicentennial celebration of the Law School of the University of Pennsylvania


Freeman J. Dyson
and Cathleen Synge Morawetz

two distinguished mathematicians

In recognition of their contributions to the field of Mathematics and Physics. Presented at the centennial celebration of mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania.


John Christian
John Goodenough
and Robert Maddin

three distinguished material scientists

50th anniversary celebration of materials science and engineering at the University of Pennsylvania


Albert Gore
Vice President of the United States

50th anniversary celebration of the invention of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC)


Leonore Annenberg
and Walter H. Annenberg

Trustees Emeriti

Closing ceremonies of the Campaign for Penn


American Philosophical Society

250th anniversary of its founding by Benjamin Franklin


Neil Amundson
Stuart W. Churchill
and Arthur Humphrey

three distinguished chemical engineers

Centennial celebration of chemical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania


Janet Reno
Attorney General of the United States

Dedication ceremony of the Nicole E. Tanenbaum Hall of the Law School

Following a review of selection criteria for the Medal and Honorary Degrees, on October 12, 2006 the Trustee’s Honorary Degrees and Awards Committee, notwithstanding any prior exceptions, unanimously confirmed that:

  • Honorary Degrees are to be awarded only at Commencement, while Medals can be awarded at any point in the year, such as at celebrations, dedications, etc., but not at Commencement.

  • Standing faculty, trustees and school and center overseers are not eligible for an Honorary Degree, but may be awarded a Medal.

  • The same person cannot be awarded both a Medal and an Honorary Degree.

  • The awarding of Medals and Honorary Degrees is restricted to individuals, effective immediately. Organizations are no longer eligible to receive Medals or Honorary Degrees.

  • October 30, 1992 Resolution Creating the Medal for Distinguished Achievement