The Jarrow athlete swapped his swimwear for a cap and gown as he received an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Sunderland during their winter Academic Awards.
Josef, 22, remains one of the North East’s most celebrated athletes after he became Team GB’s youngest gold medal winner at the London 2012 games.
The athlete was hailed a national hero when he won gold in the 400m freestyle, and has been recognised in a variety of ways since.
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This included Royal Mail honouring him with a golden postbox in his home town, and being jointly awarded the North East Sports Personality of the Year award then made Young Sports Personality of the year for 2012 at the BBC's main annual award.
But despite this success, the athlete would later reveal how he spiralled into depression in the years that followed.
Since then, he has actively spoken about mental health issues, promoting wellness, particularly among men.
Josef said: "I feel extremely lucky to receive this honorary degree, it means the world to me that people still recognise my achievements. I'm so very grateful.
"I feel it's very important for me to do this as it will help spread my message of mental health awareness. It’s so important to speak about these things."
The sporting hero received his university honour as hundreds of students officially graduated at a ceremony at the Stadium of Light.