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Country music legend Merle Haggard received an honorary doctorate at the 2013 Arts and Humanities commencement ceremonies at Cal State Bakersfield Friday.

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Dr. Merle Haggard makes a brief statement after receiving an honorary doctorate at the 2013 Cal State Bakersfield Arts and Humanities commencement ceremonies.

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Country music legend Merle Haggard, third from left, was presented with an honorary doctorate of fine arts from Cal State Bakersfield at the 2013 Arts and Humanities Commencement ceremonies. At right is Buddy Owens, who accepted the President's Medal on behalf of his father, the late Buck Owens. CSUB President Horace Mitchell is at left and California State University Trustee Dr. Douglas Faigin is second from left.

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Richard Collins, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Cal State Bakersfield, presents Merle Haggard with his doctorate of fine arts. CSUB President Horace Mitchell stands next to Haggard.

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Country music legend Merle Haggard receives an honorary doctorate from Cal State Bakersfield President Horace Mitchell at the 2013 Arts and Humanities Commencement ceremonies.

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Dr. Merle Haggard, right, shares a laugh with fellow doctor, and California State University trustee, Douglas Faigin.

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Buddy Owens accepted the CSUB President's Medal on behalf of his father, the late Buck Owens.

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The morning sun beats down on Santiago Valdivia while his fellow CSUB graduates shield themselves with programs.

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Art major June Jeffries, one of the 2,118 students graduating in three separate commencement ceremonies at CSUB.

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Nursing major Victoria Rivera lets out a cheer as the 2103 CSUB commencement ceremonies begin.

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Breanna Norwood takes a quick snapshot of the line of CSUB graduates before they all march into the CSUB Amphitheatre.

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Bakersfield country legend Red Simpson gets a police escort from Lt. Kenny Williams as he leaves the CSUB Amphitheatre after seeing his friend Merle Haggard receive an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Art.

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Jared Schweitzer, left and Bill Peloquin said they were the first two graduates of CSUB's new agribusiness school.

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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Some graduates are already thinking head, to post ceremony celebrations!

He’s Dr. Merle Haggard now.

The bad-boy hero of the rebel strain of music that put Bakersfield on America’s cultural map half a century ago did something Friday he hadn’t done since he was 9: He sat still in school.

Cal State Bakersfield presented the Oildale-bred singer-songwriter with the university’s highest honor Friday at commencement ceremonies for the School of Arts and Humanities. Joining him posthumously was his equally famous contemporary, Buck Owens, who was represented by his eldest son.

Haggard received the 10th honorary doctorate and the first doctor of fine arts in history awarded by CSUB.

Owens received the President’s Medal, the first to be awarded posthumously. “Buddy” Alan Owens accepted the medal from CSUB President Horace Mitchell on his father’s behalf.

Owens thanked the audience with a few words for the graduates.

“If he were here, he’d say something along the lines of, ‘Work hard, show up on time, and never assume anything,’” he said of Buck, who died in 2006.

Owens’ medal is the highest posthumous award that the CSU system can give.

Mitchell then introduced Haggard, who had been sitting patiently through all the welcomes and introductory comments by students and administrators.

Standing near the podium dressed in doctoral cap and gown, Mitchell shared key points and accomplishments in the star’s life to an attentive, early-morning crowd that extended across the lawn of the CSUB Amphitheatre.

“Merle Haggard is an American icon and living legend,” said Mitchell, who praised Haggard’s contributions to the arts and acknowledged his new standing as “professor of the common man.”

Haggard joined an auspicious list of musical celebrities who have been honored with honorary doctorates from the CSU system, among them jazz great Herbie Hancock Herbie Hancock  (Fresno State), rock legend Neil Young Neil Young  (San Francisco State), opera tenor Placido Domingo Placido Domingo  and Broadway star Carol Channing Carol Channin   (Cal State Stanislaus), and sitar player Ravi Shankar Ravi Shankar  (Cal State San Marcos).

Haggard is the first country music star to receive the award, and the 10th overall recipient from CSUB.

With his sister Lillian watching — as the Bakersfield High School registrar, she once turned him in to the school’s truancy officer in a vain attempt to get him on track — Haggard stepped to the podium.

“On behalf of those with the Bakersfield Sound, we appreciate this,” said Haggard. “Thank you. It’s nice to be noticed.”

Then, while the audience was distracted  by the imminent recitation of the graduates’ names, Haggard slipped out the back, just as he had done so many times before, so many years ago.

Editorial Page Editor Robert Price, a Bakersfield Sound expert, contributed to this story.