Alice Walton to receive honorary degree from the University of Arkansas

Alice Walton speaks during the 2011 Walmart Shareholders Meeting in Fayetteville.

Courtesy, Walmart Stores

The University of Arkansas will give Walmart heiress Alice Walton an honorary degree during the spring commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 12, the school announced Thursday.

To recognize “her lifetime of contributions” to Arkansas, Walton will receive an honorary Doctor of Arts and Humane Letters.

Walton opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville to international acclaim last November. In its first two months of operation, more than 125,000 people visited the world-class museum which has since put Northwest Arkansas on a host of must-visit lists including Travel + Leisure’s Hottest Travel Destinations of 2012 and the LA Times’ 12 places to visit in 2012.

In building Crystal Bridges, Walton drew on her own private art collection and the resources of the Walton Family Foundation to create what the New York Times called “the first major institution in 50 years dedicated to the vast spectrum of American art.” Aside from earning the respect of the arts community worldwide, her cultural gift is transforming the way many people think about the region and Arkansas as a whole.

University officials, however, said Crystal Bridges is only the most recent example of her influence and impact on the people in her home state.

“There are very few individuals who have the ability to make truly transformational changes in people’s lives or in the way institutions operate; far fewer individuals act on that ability,” said UA Chancellor David Gearhart in a statement. “Alice Walton is a very special individual. We want to honor what she has done already for Northwest Arkansas, the state of Arkansas, and of course, this university.”

As the youngest child of Helen and Sam Walton, Alice grew up in Bentonville, where her father operated a local five-and-ten store before starting his own company, Wal-Mart, in 1962. Alice attended Trinity University in San Antonio, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance. She began her business career with the First Commerce Corp. and later served as head of all investment-related activities at the Arvest Bank Group. In 1988, she founded the investment bank Llama Company, serving as president, chair and chief executive officer.

“I am humbled to be selected for this honor,” Walton said. “The University of Arkansas has been a tremendous resource for our state both in educating its citizens and developing its economy. To be a part of this academic tradition is personally meaningful.”

More from the release:

Walton helped bring Northwest Arkansas business and political leaders together in 1990 to form the Northwest Arkansas Council, and was the first chair of this community development organization. The council played a major role in creating the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, which continues to play a pivotal economic role for the area, helping to spur more than a decade of unprecedented growth. Walton helped finance the project and provided the initial seed capital to fund construction of the airport. The Alice L. Walton Terminal Building was named after her to recognize her contribution and support.

Walton has also played a guiding role in the Walton Family Foundation, one of the nation’s foremost philanthropic organizations. The foundation has made significant donations to the University of Arkansas, transforming the Sam M. Walton College of Business, creating the Honors College and endowing the Graduate School, turning each into nationally prominent and competitive institutions. She has continued to take an active interest in the university, serving on the Board of Advisors for the Graduate School of Business.

The Walton Family Foundation also helped fulfill Walton’s vision for Camp War Eagle, which since 2006 has given summer camp experiences to thousands of children from different socio-economic backgrounds, most of them attending free of charge.

More information about Alice Walton and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is available at