Rabbi Ellenson was conferred a Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, by the College of William and Mary, his undergraduate alma mater. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and William and Mary Rector Michael K. Powell presented the degree. The full citation of the degree is available here.
(Sandra Day O'Connor, Rabbi David Ellenson, William and Mary Rector Michael Powell, and Interim William and Mary President Taylor Reveley. Rabbi Ellenson, Ph.D., HUC-JIR President and member of the Class of 1969 of the College of William and Mary, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters, presented by Powell and the College's Chancellor and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor at Commencement services, held on May 11, 2008 in Williamsburg, VA.Photo by Stephen Salpukas)
After graduating from William and Mary in 1969 with a bachelor's degree in history, Ellenson was ordained at HUC-JIR in 1977 and received his Ph.D from Columbia University in 1981. Born in Brookline, Mass., Ellenson was raised in Newport News and graduated from in 1965 from Newport News High School. He is married to Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson, who was ordained at HUC-JIR, in 1983. They have five children. Ellenson's brother, James, is also a William and Mary graduate – receiving a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1978 and a law degree in 1981. He has been on the HUC-JIR faculty since 1979.
In a speech Rabbi Ellenson delivered the evening before graduation, he said this, (full text here).
"It is with a sense of great joy that I express my appreciation to The College of William and Mary for the honor it has bestowed upon me in granting me this honorary doctorate. I must also say how very pleased I am to be acknowledged on the same evening that Michael Tomlin has been selected. He is such a distinguished alumnus, and to be paired with him in this way fills me with a profound sense of gratitude. The decision of The College to honor a rabbi and an African American at graduation tomorrow constitutes a powerful symbolic statement that affirms the dignity inherent in all human beings and our selection embodies an ethos of racial and religious expansion and inclusion – an affirmation of diversity – on the part of The College that I can only applaud. The recognition of two persons like us would surely have been unlikely forty years ago when I attended William and Mary. I am especially grateful to former President Gene Nichol for his efforts in this direction, and I thank him for originally extending the invitation to receive this degree to me. I am grateful as well to President Taylor Reveley for confirming that invitation, and eagerly look forward to Chancellor Sandra Day O'Connor and Rector Michael Powell conferring this degree upon me tomorrow. To be acknowledged by my alma mater in this way has a special significance and fills me with a welter of emotions I hope to be able to articulate and transmit as I speak with you about what this degree and this College mean to me personally and as a member of a family that has been blessed by this institution."