KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A distinguished former University of Tennessee educator and the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo, will be awarded an honorary doctorate during the commencement ceremonies this weekend at UT.

Harjo, who has authored nine poetry books, several plays, children’s books, and two memoirs as well as performed and produced several music albums, taught as a faculty member in UT’s Department of English from 2016-2019. Harjo had retired from UT in 2019, the same year she was first named Poet Laureate of the United States.

Harjo is the first Native American poet to serve in the U.S. Poet Laureate position and she is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. As the 23rd Poet Laureate of the U.S., she was named for three terms and is the second poet in the history of the office to do so. Harjo currently lives in Tulsa, Okla., where she is the inaugural artist-in-residence of the Bob Dylan Center, and is the U.S.’s first poet laureate from Oklahoma.

On Saturday, amid UT’s two-day commencement ceremonies that will see some 5,250 graduates walk the stage to receive their degrees, Harjo will be awarded an honorary doctorate in humanities from the College of Arts and Sciences in recognition of her work as an artist and activist.

UT alumna, Olympic gold medalist, WNBA great Tamika Catchings will speak at Friday’s ceremony; while on Saturday, UT alumna Sharon Price John, who is the current president and CEO of Build-a-Bear Workshop will address graduates at the 4 p.m. College of Communication and Information ceremony.

Commencement ceremonies are happening at Thompson-Boling Arena and will be grouped by academic college, according to UT. Dates and times for each college ceremony are available on the commencement website. All ceremonies will be webcast live for those unable to attend.