Billy Mills will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree

Not a month goes by without our “own” Billy Mills – Olympic gold medalist, Running Strong for American Indian Youth national spokesperson, Native American rights activist, and advocate for Native children– being in the news.

This month, his alma mater, the University of Kansas, announced that he will soon be able to add another distinction to his already long list of recognitions – that of Doctor of Humane Letters – “for his outstanding contributions to improving the lives of Native Americans and commitment to lifting the voices of diverse and underrepresented people.”

Billy will receive the honorary degree at KU’s 147th commencement on May 19, 2019. His nomination and that of two others was approved on November 7 by the Kansas Board of Regents.

“Billy Mills, Elizabeth Broun and Teruhisa Ueda have made lasting contributions to our world,” said Chancellor Douglas A. Girod. “They embody the mission of the University of Kansas and serve as role models for students, faculty, staff and individuals throughout society who want to make meaningful contributions to the world around them. I am thrilled for the chance to recognize these three exceptional individuals at Commencement, and I know their presence will make the day that much more special for our graduates and their families.”

In the announcement, KU noted Billy’s background and the reasons the Board of Regents selected him for the honorary degree:

Billy Mills is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Mills attended Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Kansas. He attended KU on an athletic scholarship and was a three-time NCAA All-American cross-country runner. During the 1964 Summer Olympics, Mills won an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meters, and he remains the only American to ever win the event. Mills’ win in the 10,000 meters is considered one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history.

Mills is a co-founder and national spokesperson of Running Strong for American Indian Youth, an organization that aims to help American Indian people meet their immediate survival needs while creating opportunities for self-sufficiency and self-esteem in American Indian youths. In 2014, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his gold medal, Mills started Dreamstarter, a grant program to jump-start the dreams of American Indian youths.

Mills is the recipient of many distinguished athletic and humanitarian awards, including the 2015 President’s Council Lifetime Achievement Award, NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award and 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal. He has been inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame, the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame and the United States Track & Field Hall of Fame.

Billy was also honored earlier this month at a ceremony where a school in Lawrence, Kansas – Billy Mills Middle School – was named for him, “the only public school to bear the name of a Native American public figure,” reported Indian Country Today.

Indian Country Today noted, “In February of 2018, the Lawrence school board voted unanimously to change the name of South Middle School to honor Native Americans and the success of the 1964 Oglala Lakota Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills. Friday also marked the school’s 50th anniversary.”

“Patricia and I are thrilled and humbled to be a part of your community, I spent 9 years in your community,” Billy told the crowd gathered in his honor. “Your community is our community. It was where a dream was born for me.”

To read the entire article and view photos of the event, visit

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