The University Record, March 27, 2000

U will award six honorary degrees

By Wono Lee
News and Information Services

The University will award honorary degrees at its spring commencement exercises to William Ferris, chair, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH); David Halberstam, author and journalist; David Hermelin, former U.S. ambassador to Norway; Bernice Johnson Reagon, musician and historian; Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter and film director; and Martinus J.G. Veltman, theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate.

Halberstam will give the main speech at the Spring Commencement on April 29 and Bernice Johnson Reagon will be the main speaker at the University Graduate Exercises on April 28 at the Ann Arbor campus. Ferris will be the commencement speaker at the U-M-Flint graduation ceremony on April 30.

Ferris, author, folklorist and professor of anthropology, has served as chair of the NEH since 1997. Prior to joining NEH, he founded and directed the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi for 18 years. He also is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and has written a number of books. His films include Mississippi Blues, which was featured at the Cannes Film Festival. For nearly a decade, he hosted “Highway 61,” a weekly blues music program that airs on Mississippi Public Radio. Before joining the University of Mississippi faculty, he taught at Yale University (1972–79) and at Jackson State University in Mississippi (1970–72).

Halberstam launched his journalism career in 1956 as a reporter with the Nashville Tennessean. A staff writer for the New York Times in 1960–67, Halberstam was a war correspondent and political reporter, covering the Katanga uprising in the Congo as well as the Vietnam War. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for international reporting and continued to examine the war in a series of books and magazine articles after leaving the Times. He is best known for his nonfiction books depicting power and influence. His most acclaimed works include The Best and The Brightest (1972), The Powers That Be(1979) and The Reckoning (1986).

Johnson Reagon is the Distinguished Professor of History at American University, curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, and founder and artistic director of Sweet Honey in the Rock. The women’s a cappella musical ensemble tours throughout the United States and internationally. One of the first African American children in her community in rural Georgia to be bused to integrated schools, she joined the youth chapter of the local National Association for the Advancement of Color People while in high school. She worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early 1960s. She has served as a music consultant, composer and performer for the “Eyes on the Prize” television series and other PBS productions. She also received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

Hermelin, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Norway, is a prominent Michigan businessman, philanthropist and community leader. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the U-M in 1958, he joined his father’s insurance business, which grew to become one of the most successful agencies in the state. He has been a business partner in numerous other ventures, including Arbor Drugs Inc., First of America Bank Corp., Ha-Lo Industries, Palace Sports & Entertainment, Phoenicia America-Israel Flat Glass Ltd. and Village Green Apartments. Hermelin is recognized internationally for his philanthropic leadership. He has supported numerous and diverse causes.

Kasdan is a film director who has written and directed some of the most influential films of the last 20 years. He has directed nine films: Body Heat, The Big Chill, Silverado, The Accidental Tourist, I Love You to Death, Grand Canyon, Wyatt Earp, French Kiss, and Mumford. He has written or co-written all of these pictures except I Love You to Death and French Kiss. In addition, he has written or co-written four of the most successful films in motion picture history: Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and The Bodyguard. Drawn to the U-M because of its Avery Hopwood literary prize, Kasdan won the prestigious award four times, including one year when he took first place in both fiction and drama. He received both his B.A. (1970) and M.A. (1972) from the U-M.

Veltman, the U-M’s John D. MacArthur Professor Emeritus of Physics, was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize in physics. In the 1960s and 1970s he completed the pioneering mathematical work cited in the Nobel Prize announcement. This included providing the mathematical framework for what is known as the Standard Model of elementary particles and helping to make that framework experimentally testable. Veltman also developed the Schoonship computer program, the first general purpose algebraic computer program to assist with the numerous calculations associated with high-energy physics. He is a member of the Dutch Academy of Science and a fellow of the American Physical Society.