Lonnie Bunch III

A headshot of Lonnie Bunch IIIAlthough the Smithsonian used to be nicknamed “America’s Attic,” your vision, creativity and sheer determination have rendered that dusty old label obsolete.

Starting with exactly zero objects in the metaphorical “attic”—also, no building, no site, no money and a staff of one—you led the National Museum of African American History and Culture into being.

Since 2016, millions have descended to the museum’s lowest levels, starting their visits there confronted by the depths and darkness of the Middle Passage. Those millions have then ascended floor by floor through accounts of brutality and inhumanity, yes, but also through tales of resilience, hope, resolve, brilliance, ingenuity and optimism.

As you intended, the experience exposes not what the world wants to remember, but what we need to remember. As you envisioned, it defines both what it means to be Black in America and also what it means to be American. As you dreamed, it is opening minds and changing the lives of those who walk through its doors.

Now, as the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, you are guiding into existence the National Museum of the American Latino and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum. Making room for more stories we need to hear.

We look forward to hearing them with you.

I hereby declare you recipient of the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters, entitled to all the rights, honors, and privileges appertaining thereto.

June 2, 2024