Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, March 18, 2011

Regents approve honorary degrees, Snyder as commencement speaker

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will deliver the main address and receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree when U-M presents its Spring Commencement at 10 a.m. April 30 at Michigan Stadium.

Snyder was inaugurated as Michigan's 48th governor Jan. 1. Honorary degrees for Snyder and five additional recipients were approved by the Board of Regents at its meeting Thursday.

U-M has a tradition of inviting sitting governors to provide the commencement address, university leaders say. Since 1967, every sitting governor has given the commencement address during his or her time in office.

"As a Michigan alumnus and the state's chief executive, Gov. Snyder is uniquely positioned to tell our graduates about the challenges and rewards of leadership. We look forward to his message, and to presenting honorary degrees to the exceptional individuals who will join us in celebrating the Class of 2011," President Mary Sue Coleman says.

Also recommended for honorary degrees are:

• Vernon J. Ehlers, former U.S. congressman and physicist, Doctor of Laws

• William Clay Ford Jr., executive chairman of the board of directors, Ford Motor Co., Doctor of Laws

• Shelton "Spike" Lee, film director, producer and writer, Doctor of Fine Arts

• Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, Doctor of Humane Letters. Robinson will speak at University Graduate Exercises, 9:30 a.m. April 29 at Hill Auditorium

• Stephen M. Ross, chairman, CEO and managing partner, The Related Companies, L.P., Doctor of Laws

The following biographical information on each recipient comes from the honorary degree citations.

Gov. Rick Snyder

Snyder was elected governor in November 2010. Raised in Battle Creek, he earned three degrees at U-M before the age of 23. Snyder obtained a bachelor's degree in general studies in 1977, a Master of Business Administration degree in 1979 and a Juris Doctor in 1982, all from U-M.

He joined the Gateway Computer Corp. in its early years, helping guide it to Fortune 500 status. Returning to Michigan in 1997, he turned his efforts toward creating jobs and business opportunities in the field of venture capital, founding two capital funds, Avalon and Ardesta, both based in Ann Arbor, where his mission was to assist innovators and entrepreneurs in developing their products and concepts as new companies in Michigan.

In 1999 he was selected as the first chair of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., which he helped to transform into one of the nation's most respected public-private economic development programs. Since assuming office, Snyder has called on the citizenry and elected officials to work together in a new spirit of cooperation, courage and innovation.

Vernon J. Ehlers

Ehlers has devoted his life to promoting excellence in science and to the highest ideals of public service. He began his undergraduate studies at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, then transferred to the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his bachelor's degree in physics and his doctorate in nuclear physics in 1960. He taught and conducted research at Berkeley, then returned to Calvin College in 1966 as a professor of physics, and served as a volunteer science adviser to then-U.S. Rep. Gerald R. Ford.

Elected to Congress in 1993, he was a member of the House of Representatives until his retirement in 2011. He insisted on research to help identify the needs of the public and was key to the passage of the America COMPETES Act of 2010, which will apply scientific research toward the creation of an innovation economy. In 2002 the American Association for the Advancement of Science presented Ehlers with the prestigious Philip Hauge Abelson Award for supporting science in Congress.

William Clay Ford Jr.

Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., is a leader who has reinvigorated the automotive industry and has made innovative environmentalism a cornerstone of his career and philosophy. He has had a lifelong commitment to placing environmental issues at the forefront of his and the company's attention, dedicated to increasing shareholder value by developing products that attract customers, as well as benefit society.

He established the company's first wildlife habitat at a plant location, and the company became the first automotive plant in the world to use 25 percent post-consumer materials in all of its plastic parts. In 2004 the company completed the world's largest brownfield reclamation project, the restoration of its Ford Rouge Complex. Ford championed the Ford Escape Hybrid, the world's first hybrid-electric sport utility vehicle, which was named North American Truck of the Year in 2005.

Shelton "Spike" Lee

Lee is one of the world's most significant filmmakers, combining artistic expression with a call for social justice. Lee graduated from Morehouse University, then entered the Film School at New York University to pursue a Master of Arts degree. At NYU his capstone project earned a student director's award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1982.

The release of his first major film, "She's Gotta Have It," in 1986 launched him on an international career as a filmmaker, winning the newcomer Prix de Jeunesse at the Cannes Film Festival and the New Generation Award of the Los Angeles Film Critics. A series of critically and financially successful films followed, including "School Daze" (1988), "Do the Right Thing" (1989), "Jungle Fever" (1991) and "Malcolm X" (1992). In recent years, he has used his public presence and filmmaking skills to focus attention on the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, with two HBO documentaries.

Eugene Robinson

Robinson is one of the nation's foremost journalists, offering illumination and insight into pivotal eras of political and social transformation. He attended U-M, becoming the first African-American co-editor-in-chief of The Michigan Daily, and reported on the impact of the anti-Vietnam War movement on campus, the 1972 presidential race and the Watergate scandal. He obtained his first professional job as a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he covered the trial that followed the Patricia Hearst kidnapping.

In 1980 he accepted a position at The Washington Post and served in several positions including foreign correspondent in South America and London bureau chief, before returning to Washington to become the foreign editor, at which time he was elected to the Council on Foreign Relations. He began to write a regular column for the Op-Ed page in 2005, and in 2009 his keen perception and profound lyricism were honored with a Pulitzer Prize in Commentary.

Stephen M. Ross

Ross is globally recognized as a remarkable leader in the business world. A native of Michigan, he earned his bachelor's degree in accounting from the U-M Business School, a law degree at Wayne State University and an LL.M. degree in taxation at the School of Law at New York University. He began his career as a tax attorney at Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers), then became assistant vice president in the real estate subsidiary of Laird Inc. and in the corporate finance department of Bear, Stearns & Co., both in New York City.

In 1972 he founded and became chairman and CEO of The Related Companies, L.P., which today has a real estate portfolio valued in billions of dollars. He was named Owner & Developer of the Year by New York Construction News in 2000, and received the Tree of Life Award in 1998 in recognition of outstanding community involvement and devotion to peace and the security of human life.

Ross retained deep ties to the U-M Business School through several decades, offering his expertise to students and faculty. He transformed the school in a spectacular way in 2004, when he donated $100 million to create new and improved facilities and to allow its world-class programs to thrive in competition with the other leading business schools in the country.