Two to receive UW honorary degrees

Judy Catchpole (left) and Judy Shepard (right) (courtesy of the University of Wyoming)

The University of Wyoming will confer its highest award, the honorary doctoral degree, upon two individuals who will be recognized during UW commencement ceremonies May 18.

Coincidentally, both recipients are named “Judy.”

Judy Catchpole, former Wyoming superintendent of public instruction, education advocate and community volunteer; and Judy Shepard, president of the Matthew Shepard Foundation Board of Directors and renowned civil rights advocate.

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They each will receive the Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

UW alumni, current or former trustees, and faculty members are eligible to nominate individuals for honorary degrees who “embody the university’s high ideals; exemplify the values of excellence, service and integrity; and possess distinguished accomplishments in their professions, public service or service to humanity,” according to a UW written statement.

Submissions are referred to a joint committee of trustees and faculty members, which forwards recommendations to the full Board of Trustees for approval.

Catchpole, who received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UW in 1966, served as Wyoming’s chief education officer from 1995-2003, elected to two terms by Wyoming voters. She ushered in major school reforms including student assessments, academic content standards, teacher certification standards, educational technology and charter school policy. At the national level, she was a member of the Education Commission of the States and the National Assessment of Educational Progress Board.

A longtime Casper resident, UW says that Catchpole began her career as a preschool teacher and director. She served on the Natrona County School Board and has been an active community volunteer, with activities ranging from church service to leadership in numerous youth organizations.

Since leaving statewide office in 2013, Catchpole has remained active in education issues, chairing the Wyoming Department of Education’s Advisory Committee for School Accountability and serving as founding co-chair of UW’s Literacy Research Center and Clinic Outreach Board. She was a member of the UW College of Education’s advisory and advocacy boards for many years, and she was elected as a lifetime member of Raising Readers in Wyoming by that organization’s board of directors. She has been recognized with the UW College of Education’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

“Judy’s contributions to education and politics in Wyoming and nationwide are unparalleled,” wrote current state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. “Few women, and perhaps no teachers in our state’s history, have gone from the classroom to lead a state political party and serve as one of our five statewide elected officials.”

“Judy Catchpole is inspiring in her enthusiasm and dedication,” wrote former Wyoming first lady Carol Mead. “And her long career, deep knowledge and wide-ranging experience are admirable and have touched countless efforts and programs — big and small — in impactful and tangible ways.”

“Judy represents the very best the state of Wyoming has to offer as a lifetime engaged citizen, exemplary public servant, generous benefactor of time, talents and financial means, and loyal UW alumnus,” wrote College of Education Dean Ray Reutzel. “Judy’s lifetime of service is reflected in the quantity and quality of her outstanding contributions to the lives of the people of Wyoming, ranging from school-aged students and youth to past governors, trustees and Wyoming legislators.”

Shepard originally was trained as a teacher as well, holding a bachelor’s degree in secondary education from UW. Also a longtime Casper resident, she channeled the anger and grief related to the high-profile 1998 murder of her son, UW student Matthew Shepard, into a two-decades-long focus on civil rights advocacy for lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and queer individuals.

UW says that Shepard has traveled the globe to raise awareness and promote human dignity for all people by engaging schools, corporations and individuals in constructive dialogue to promote positive change. In all, she has spoken at more than 900 events in 25 countries. She also wrote a 2009 memoir, “The Meaning of Matthew,” exploring her family’s journey through the prosecution of her son’s assailants, ensuing media coverage and the family’s continuing work to advance civil rights.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation — for which she served as executive director from 1999-2009 and continues to serve as board president — is recognized as one of the world’s foremost LGBTQ advocacy organizations. Her advocacy played a significant role in the passage of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, and she is the recipient of many national and international awards.

“What Judy has done in the 20 years since her world was forever changed is nothing short of extraordinary,” wrote Philip Dubois, chancellor of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, who was UW’s president at the time of Matthew Shepard’s murder. “Rather than allowing her grief and (others’) hate to consume her, she drew strength from it and emerged as a true modern-day civil rights leader. Her tireless work on behalf of the LGBTQ community has brought about important change and has inspired and encouraged countless individuals.”

“Judy Shepard never sought notoriety,” noted retired U.S. District Judge William Downes. “Yet, for 20 years — in loving memory of Matthew — she has carried on her quest for justice with quiet dignity, humility and love. Our country, Wyoming and humanity are the beneficiaries of her selfless service.”

“Judy’s contributions to the lives of the people of Wyoming, especially our youth, are difficult to measure,” wrote Jim Osborn, UW’s Title IX coordinator and manager of Equal Opportunity Report and Response. “Nonetheless, she has brought a message of hope, determination, acceptance and love to countless people in Wyoming and beyond that has changed lives and made the world a better place.”