Commencement 2024–URI to award honorary degrees to renowned actress Viola Davis, author Deborah Goodrich Royce, and business executive Charles Royce

Viola Davis

Three to be honored during commencement ceremonies May 18

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 18, 2024 – Viola Davis, one of only 19 people to have ever won all four of the major American performing art awards; and Charles M. Royce and Deborah Goodrich Royce, noted for their literary and investment success and preservation work across Rhode Island, will be awarded honorary degrees by the University of Rhode Island next month.

The University will award the degrees in recognition of their professional and personal achievement, on Saturday, May 18, at 10 a.m. at the Thomas M. Ryan Center on the Kingston Campus. Davis will be awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters, and the Royces will be awarded honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters.

The University will honor more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate degree candidates from Friday, May 17, through Sunday, May 19, in eight college-based ceremonies at the Ryan Center

“I could not be more pleased with this year’s honorary degree recipients, whose lives and work serve as an inspiration to our university and exemplify impressive achievements and contributions to the arts, philanthropy, business, and public service,” URI President Marc Parlange said. “Each of our recipients has had a meaningful impact on their field, our state, and the world, and they embody the values we work to instill in all our students. We warmly welcome them into the URI community, and I look forward to honoring them during our commencement activities next month.”

Barbara Wolfe, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said, “As a public research university with students pursuing so many exciting careers, it is inspiring to welcome honorary degree recipients who exemplify commitment to craft, to one’s values, and to giving back. We are grateful for their leadership and look forward to the opportunity to honor their incredible achievements at this year’s URI commencement.” 

Viola Davis 

Davis is one of just 19 individuals to ever achieve EGOT status—a designation given to those who have won each of the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards. A revered artist, activist, producer, philanthropist, and New York Times best-selling author, Davis has won Tony Awards for her performances in King Hedley II (2001) and a revival of August Wilson’s Fences (2010). In 2015, she became the first African American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her television role in How to Get Away with Murder. She reprised her role playing Rose Maxson in the 2016 film adaptation of Fences, for which she received an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 2017. She was honored in 2017 by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people, and in 2022, received the Public Counsel’s William O. Douglas Award for her commitment to social justice causes. And in 2023, she received a Grammy Award for Best Audio Book, Narration and Storytelling Recording, for her critically acclaimed and New York Times best-selling memoir Finding Me.

In 2012, Davis and her husband, Julius Tennon, founded their production company, JuVee Productions, with its focus on giving a voice to the voiceless. JuVee creates scripted and non-scripted television, film, documentary, theater, and digital immersive content for global audiences. A graduate of The Juilliard School, Davis received an honorary doctorate during its 109th commencement ceremony. She also holds an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from her alma mater, Rhode Island College, and is also a graduate of Central Falls High School in Rhode Island.

Deborah Goodrich Royce

Deborah Goodrich Royce

A best-selling author, Royce is renowned for her thrillers that examine puzzles of identity. Reef Road, a national bestseller, was named one of the best books of 2023 by Kirkus Reviews and an Indie Next pick by the American Booksellers Association. Ruby Falls won the Zibby Award for Best Plot Twist, and Finding Mrs. Ford was hailed by Forbes, Book Riot, and Good Morning America. 

The Ocean House Author Series—a salon-style conversation that Royce hosts in partnership with Bank Square Books—brings world-class authors to Watch Hill, Rhode Island. It has featured a wide range of fiction and non-fiction writers, including Chris Bohjalian, Katie Couric, Zibby Owens, and Emma Straub.

Royce writes a quarterly column for Hey Rhody Magazine, sharing her book recommendations and news with the Ocean State. She began as an actress on All My Children and in multiple films, before transitioning to the role of story editor at Miramax Films, developing Emma and early versions of Chicago and A Wrinkle in Time.

She and her husband have worked together to restore the Avon Theatre in Stamford, Connecticut; the 100-year-old Deer Mountain Inn in Tannersville, New York; Martin House Books in Westerly, Rhode Island; and other main street revitalization projects in Rhode Island and the Catskills. They have also led preservation projects such as the Mountain Top Library and Fromer’s Farm in Tannersville, New York; the restoration of Westerly’s Ocean House, a Victorian-era wooden seaside resort hotel built in the 1860s that reopened in 2010. Also in Westerly, they led the restoration of the United Theatre, which was completed in 2022. It has become a cultural center bringing together various forms of art, music, and dance.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in modern foreign languages and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Lake Erie College.

Charles M. “Chuck’ Royce

Charles M. “Chuck’ Royce 

Royce is chair and portfolio manager of Royce and Associates, LLP, retiring in 2015 as president and chief executive officer of the firm that he founded in 1972. The firm specializes in investments in domestic and international small capitalization stocks. He received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Brown University in 1961 and a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University in 1963. 

Royce is a fellow emeritus of the Brown Corporation. He previously served three terms as trustee of Brown University, established the Royce Fellowship in 1996, which supports undergraduate research and enrichment projects, and established the Royce Family Professorship for Teaching Excellence in 2004 to foster, promote and reward undergraduate teaching.  Royce serves as a trustee for The Frick Collection, along with the Berkeley School of Divinity at Yale University, the Bruce Museum, and the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, Florida.

Royce and his Royce Family Fund were instrumental in building the Westerly Education Center and are working on Westerly’s Tower Street Center, a multi-purpose community space being repurposed from an abandoned school. 

He served on the Vestry of Trinity Wall Street and Christ Church in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he was instrumental in founding “Courage and Faith,” a series that presents leading writers and artists to the community.