The U will present four accomplished Utahns with honorary degrees in May.

The awards, as described by Board of Trustees spokesperson Laura Marks, are “the highest honor the university can bestow.” They honor exceptional contributors to academia, science, medicine, politics, business and the arts. Previous recipients include pianist Gina Bachauer, Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Mario Cappecchi and businessman-turned-politician Mitt Romney.

This year’s honorees are businessman and philanthropist Kem C. Gardner (honorary Doctor of Business), Lynette Nielsen Gay (Doctor of Human Letters) for her extensive charity work, inventor and scientist Kirk M. Ririe (Doctor of Science), and George D. Smith (Doctor of Humanities), a prominent publisher and Mormon historian.

Alumni Association president Julie Barrett chaired the election committee and said they tried to find diversity in their selections.

“We’re looking for outstanding members of our community who benefit it in a myriad of ways,” Barrett said.

This year’s recipients were chosen from a pool of dozens of nominees. In addition to Barrett, the selection committee included three Board of Trustees members, a sitting faculty member and student body president Ambra Jackson.

“We’ve always been fortunate to have a really great group to choose from,” Marks said. “It makes [selection] hard.”

Barrett praised the achievements of each nominee in turn, highlighting Gay’s humanitarian action throughout Africa and Gardner’s efforts in Utah.

“He’s just a giant in the community,” Barrett said of Gardner. “He stood out to us for his community service and his real love of the university.”

Ririe, the CEO of BioFire Defense, is a “very timely” nominee, Barrett said, as his company prepares for further partnership with the U.

The honorary degrees will be presented at the spring commencement ceremonies in May.

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