Adams and Ottaway Set to Receive Honorary Degrees

SUNY New Paltz will confer honorary degrees to New Paltz famed alumni James H. Ottaway Jr. and Janus Adams this May.

The college will confer its highest form of recognition at the undergraduate commencement ceremonies. An Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters—which honors exceptional scholarship, service and professional achievements —will be presented to Adams on Saturday May 19, and will be presented to Ottaway at ceremonies the following day.

The honorary degree is the highest form of recognition across the State University of New York system. The recognition is meant to set an example for the many students within the SUNY system. Each SUNY campus has the opportunity to nominate those who have achieved significant professional success, or those who feel they represent an inspiring example for the wide range of SUNY students. 

A part of the office of the president of SUNY New Paltz, Director of Community and Government Relations Richard Winters remarked on the purpose of the degrees. 

“It is meant to recognize individuals of distinguished and significant accomplishments,” Winters said. “Often, nominees have made outstanding contributions to the campus community.”

“Many nominees have a direct tie or connection or have done service for SUNY New Paltz,” Winters said. “It is important that a student can relate to a nominee.”

The nominees are sent by SUNY New Paltz to the State University of New York Honorary Committee. This is when they consider the nominees’ achievements; whether they be in speaking, service, financial contributions, or a host of other fields of accomplishments.

“They let us know if we can extend the dedication to the candidates,” Winters added. “We then present a formal invitation, and from there, the Board [of Trustees] votes on the nominees.” 

The first individual being honored is alumna Janus Adams ‘67. Adams is an Emmy-Award winning journalist, entrepreneur, historian, musician and speaker. She is also a bestselling author of 11 books. Her most recent release, titled “Sediddy: Attitude, Gratitude, and Seeing Red,” is the first-ever collection of writing on her life. Adams majored in theatre during her time at SUNY New Paltz.

Among her accolades, Adams was the first National Arts Correspondent for the National Public Radio (NPR). Adams has hosted her own television and radio shows and has appeared as a guest on networks such as ABC, Fox News, CNN, CBS, and NBC. Adams has also written columns, articles, and essays for Newsday, USA Today and The Huffington Post

“Janus has spent her life and career immersed in culture and history,” Winters said.

To add to her host of career achievements, Adams has spent her career acting as a fierce advocate for civil rights, human rightsand social justice. [She has been a pioneer of programming which is African American and women issue-oriented.]

Adams visited campus last fall to give a Distinguished Speaker Series address entitled “Know When to Leave the Plantation,” which chronicled a variety of experiences. She reconciled her personal history as a black woman growing up in America with her attempts to heal. Adams recently returned in February to give an encore of the talk.

Besides being a Distinguished Speaker, Adams also spoke at the fourth year of the SUNY New Paltz Women’s Leadership Summit, where, she provided guidance to students– female and male.

“Her 30+ years of success and work on Civil Rights is extraordinary and worthy of this award,” Winters said.

Adams will speak at the Saturday May. 19 commencement ceremonies, which will graduate students of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The second individual who will be awarded an Honorary Degree is James Ottaway Jr; a journalist, newspaper executive and philanthropist. 

Ottaway was a reporter and later carried on the legacy of his father, James Ottaway Sr. by becoming a chairman and chief financial officer of Ottaway Newspapers. The company was made a newspaper subsidiary of Dow Jones & Company in 1970. He oversaw 20 national newspapers, including the local Times Herald Record.

Ottaway also served as Director of Dow Jones & Co. Inc., from 1987 to April 2006, and then became senior vice president and president of the International and Magazine divisions.

Although he did not attend SUNY New Paltz, he has been a longtime friend of the College. New Paltz is his hometown, and he holds an affinity for the university. 

Ottaway referred to New Paltz as his “hometown’s state university,” in a press release on the SUNY New Paltz website.

He attended the Philips Exeter Academy and Yale University.

In 2000, Ottaway and his wife, New Paltz alumna Mary Ottaway ‘70, established the James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professorship, which invites one established journalist to teach each spring. It is SUNY New Paltz’s first and only endowed professorship in journalism.

“It invites all sorts of visiting journalists– those who are distinguished, or at the pinnacle of their profession,” Winter remarked of the professorship.

Besides the professorship, Ottaway and his wife have been generous patrons of the Arts at SUNY New Paltz. They have dedicated time, support and a catalog endowment to the expansion of galleries at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art. 

Their philanthropy and service have supported local professional and civic organizations, which includes the Wallkill Valley Land Trust and Mohonk Preserve.

Ottaway Jr. will speak on Sunday. May 20, when the students of the School of Business will receive their diplomas.