Prominent psychologist and UW-Madison alumnus John Gottman to speak at commencement, receive honorary degree


UW–Madison graduates will hear from two outstanding keynote speakers at spring commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 8. Broadway star André De Shields will address bachelor’s degree candidates, while John Gottman, one of the most influential psychologists in the country, will address graduate degree candidates.

As previously announced, the university will hold two in-person, graduates-only ceremonies at Camp Randall on May 8. The times of the ceremonies have now been set. The ceremony for bachelor’s degree candidates will begin at noon CST. The ceremony for graduate degree candidates (including doctoral, law, medical, professional, and master’s degree candidates) will begin at 4 p.m. CST. Both ceremonies will be livestreamed.

Due to guidelines limiting travel during a pandemic, both De Shields and Gottman will address graduates virtually.

John Gottman, Ph.D., an alumnus of UW–Madison, is world-renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction. He will be awarded an honorary doctoral degree during spring commencement. As is the tradition for recipients of honorary doctoral degrees, he will speak at the ceremony for graduate students.

John Gottman

“Dr. Gottman’s highly influential scientific work has shaped and, indeed, set the standard for research on the complex nature of relationships and the factors that contribute to relationship success and failure,” says Professor Craig Berridge, chair of the UW–Madison Department of Psychology, which nominated Gottman for the honor.

Honorary doctorates from UW–Madison recognize individuals with careers of extraordinary accomplishment. The committee looks for achievements that have enhanced lives though contributions to scholarship or through artistic talent and creativity, and, importantly, evidence of a dedication to the Wisconsin idea. Preference is given to people connected in some significant way to the state or university, though that is not a prerequisite.

Gottman earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology–mathematics from UW–Madison in 1967 and a doctorate in clinical psychology from UW–Madison in 1971. Prior to that, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics–physics from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1962 and a master’s degree in mathematics–psychology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964.

After holding faculty positions at Indiana University and the University of Illinois, Gottman joined the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington in 1986. In 1996, he co-founded of The Gottman Institute in Seattle with his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman. Its mission is to “create and maintain greater love and health in relationships.”

“Dr. Gottman was the first to develop rigorous mathematical analyses of behavior to objectively describe relationships in couples,” says Professor Janet Hyde, chair of the UW–Madison Department of Gender & Women’s Studies and a professor of psychology. “His background in mathematics was the key to the development of this, which at the time was a groundbreaking experimental approach. These analytical methods have since had great relevance to many other areas in the study of human behavior.”

Gottman is the author or co-author of over 200 published academic articles and more than 40 books, including the bestselling “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”; “What Makes Love Last”; “Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love”; “The Relationship Cure”; “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”; and “Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child.” His media appearances include “Good Morning America,” “Today,” “CBS Morning News,” and “Oprah.”

In 2002, Gottman became an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Washington and the executive director of the Relationship Institute in Seattle.

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This article has been excerpted from the original by Doug Erickson