Doctorate of Humane Letters, honoris causa
Cullen Jones is a record-breaking swimmer, a four-time Olympic medalist and the first African-American man to win a gold medal at the World University Games. He is also a longtime advocate for drowning prevention and works to enhance diversity in his sport as part of the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash initiative and as the face of Speedo’s Learn to Swim program. Last fall, he launched the Cullen Jones Diversity Invitational, a multiethnic swim meet focused on competition, education and fundraising. More than 500 swimmers between the ages of 8 and 18 participated in the three-day, USA Swimming-sanctioned event, held in Charlotte, N.C., where Jones currently resides.
Born in the Bronx borough of New York City, Jones later moved with his family to Irvington, N.J. At age 5, he almost drowned, leading his mother to enroll him in swimming lessons. Despite being a minority in a sport historically dominated by white athletes, Jones excelled. He earned a scholarship to North Carolina State University, where he studied English and became a four-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion as well as a National Collegiate Athletic Association winner. After turning professional in 2006, he set records at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships and the 2008 Olympic trials. During the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, he swam the third leg of a spectacular come-from-behind race, cementing his place in Olympic history: As part of the world-record-breaking 4x100-meter men’s freestyle relay team, he became only the second African-American ever to win swimming gold. In 2009, he established an American record in the 50-meter individual freestyle race, and his time of 21.40 seconds still holds as the best in U.S. history. At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Cullen won a second gold and two silver medals, including an individual silver. At the 2013 Winter National Championships, Jones was part of the fastest foursome of Americans ever in the men’s 200-yard medley relay.
Amherst College celebrates Jones’ extraordinary contributions to competitive swimming and recognizes the critical work he does in teaching a new generation of urban children how to swim safely.