Navy required James Hawkes’ service, preventing him from attending his commencment ceremony 51 years ago.

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James Hawkes survived an interview with notoriously abrasive four-star Adm. Hyman Rickover, served in the U.S. Navy on a nuclear submarine, is the retired CEO and chairman of Eaton Vance and is a recreational pilot. One thing he hasn’t been able to check off his bucket list is attending the commencement ceremony to receive his aerospace engineering degree at the University of Oklahoma. Honored as this year’s Distinguished Graduates Society member, Hawkes will finally be able to add that last one to his list of accomplishments.
“Celebrating the achievement of earning a college degree is a privilege we want all of our graduates to experience,” said Thomas Landers, dean of the OU College of Engineering. “We are honored that Mr. Hawkes has chosen this moment to celebrate a milestone event.”
From 1960 to 1964, Hawkes attended OU on a Naval ROTC scholarship, completing his aerospace engineering education in the College of Engineering. Originally from Georgia and having never been farther west than the Georgia-Alabama state line, Hawkes looked forward to his Oklahoma adventure.
“I enjoyed college life in just about every way,” Hawkes said. “From Navy serviceman to CEO businessman, the skills I learned and experiences I had at OU have been very influential in my life.”
But before he could walk across the stage to receive his diploma, the Navy required his service immediately. Within a week of completing his undergraduate education, Hawkes missed commencement to drive to New London, Connecticut, where he would serve four years in the Navy. Hawkes’ deteriorating eyesight would destine him to the nuclear submarine program rather than his desired position as an airman. His naval service ended in 1968, just as funding for the U.S. space program was winding down and many engineers were being laid off. While many of his colleagues and contemporaries were looking for work as taxi cab drivers and delivery men, Hawkes attended Harvard Business School where he earned a master of business administration degree. Soon after he combined the analytical, problem-solving and management characteristics of his two seemingly unrelated degrees to join the investment management team at Eaton Vance.
Hawkes spent the next 37 years climbing the corporate ladder at the investment management firm, eventually serving at the top rank for more than a decade. After retiring from Eaton Vance in 2007, he now serves as chairman emeritus.
He isn’t able to travel to Oklahoma often, but this weekend will be special for Hawkes when he flies his plane into Max Westheimer Airport, where his dream of flying was realized, he took his first flying lesson and made his first solo flight. He will also finally attend an OU commencement.
“I’m honored to join such an accomplished group of graduates,” Hawkes said. “It’s fitting to revisit my roots at OU, where my future in engineering and leadership began.”