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Updated 10:00 AM March 24, 2008




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Seven to receive honorary degrees

A sports broadcaster, a national TV anchor, the leader of a South African university, an astronomer, a computer scientist, a theater director and a former professional baseball player are to receive honorary degrees at Spring Commencement.

ABC News anchor and special correspondent Robert Woodruff will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree when he serves as commencement speaker 10 a.m. April 26. This year's ceremony will be held on the Diag because of construction at Michigan Stadium.

James "Jim" Abbott, former U-M baseball pitcher who went on to play for several pro teams, will be the speaker at U-M-Flint's ceremony at 2:30 p.m. April 27. Abbott will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws, as well.

Other honorary degree recipients for the Ann Arbor campus include Frances E. Allen, Doctor of Science; Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Doctor of Science; William Earnest "Ernie" Harwell, Doctor of Humane Letters; Njabulo Ndebele, Doctor of Laws; and Jack O'Brien, Doctor of Fine Arts.

Allen is the speaker for the Graduate Exercises to be held at 1 p.m. April 25 in Hill Auditorium. O'Brien will address the School of Music, Theatre & Dance graduates at the unit-wide celebration 4:30 p.m. April 25 in the Power Center.

The following statements are from their honorary degree citations:

James "Jim" Abbott compiled an outstanding record as a professional pitcher after a remarkable college career at U-M. His accomplishment was even more extraordinary because he achieved it with only one hand.

A native of Flint, Abbott, with help from his father, developed a style of pitching known as the "Abbott switch," a method of shifting his glove from right wrist to left hand, allowing him to field balls and pitch.

By age 11 he had pitched a no-hitter in Little League. In 1985, at age 18, he was offered a spot on the Toronto Blue Jays but decided to enroll at U-M instead. In his freshman season in 1986 Abbott helped the baseball team win the Big Ten title.

By his sophomore year he had an 11-3 record, and earned a place on the United States baseball team at the Pan American Games in Havana, where the team won a silver medal and defeated Cuba, the first such victory in 25 years.

In 1988 he played on the Olympic team, pitching a winning game against the previous world champion Japanese team, earning the first baseball gold medal for the United States. By his junior year Abbott had won several national awards and the major leagues came calling.

He played for the California Angels, the Yankees, the White Sox and the Brewers. He then turned his attention to working with physically challenged children and has become a motivational speaker. His dominant message is that "there is great potential within all of us to rise up to the challenges we face."

Abbott was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2004, and was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Frances E. Allen is recognized as an eminent computer scientist whose career has encompassed the entire history of the field.

Raised on a dairy farm in New York in a house without electricity, Allen ultimately led a research team at IBM that produced critical innovations in computer processing.

She earned a bachelor's degree in education from the then Albany State Teachers College and a master's degree in mathematics at U-M. She was diverted from her original career plan to teach when she took a graduate course in 1957 that involved programming a room-size computer.

Allen's first assignment in the research division of IBM involved teaching programmers how to use Fortran, the first high-level programming language. She spent much of her career in the field of compiler optimization, designing programs that translate instructions written in a programming language understood by humans into the digital code of the machine.

In the early 1960s, she worked on the top secret Stretch-Harvest computer for the National Security Agency, to extract intelligence from intercepted spy communications from around the world. Allen worked on the design of Alpha, a high-level programming language tailored for recognizing patterns in overseas messages, which eventually helped crack Cold War-era codes.

In 1989 she became the first woman chosen as an IBM fellow. The company created the Frances E. Allen Women in Technology Mentoring Award, and made her its first recipient in 2000. In 2007 she became the first woman to be chosen for the highest honor in her field, the A.M. Turing Award of the Association for Computing Machinery.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell has led a life of discovery in the field of astronomy and has been a champion for the roles of women in science.
Bell Burnell

Born in Belfast, Ireland, her father had designed the Armagh Planetarium, leading to her early interest in astronomy. She earned her undergraduate degree in physics at the University of Glasgow, the only woman in her class of 50.

After graduating she began to work on her doctorate at Cambridge University. Working in radio astronomy, she initially undertook research in the field of quasars, distant star formations. Her equipment recorded pulsating signals that could not be explained, leading in 1967 to the discovery of tiny pulsating stars, which the popular press dubbed "pulsars."

She and her dissertation adviser, Antony Hewish, were awarded the prestigious Michelson Award in 1973, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of pulsars, which had been identified by Bell Burnell.

She currently holds an academic position at Oxford University.

Bell Burnell has been recognized as a fellow in the Royal Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics, and has received numerous awards, including the Herschel Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Bernice M. Tinsley Prize of the American Astronomical Society.

She was honored as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to science in 2007, and served as president of the Royal Astronomical Society from 2002-04.

William Earnest "Ernie" Harwell has established his place in history with a career that mirrors the history of sports broadcasting.

Harwell, 90, was born in Washington, Ga., before the dawn of broadcast radio. He inherited a passion for baseball from his father, dreamed of being a sports reporter and got his first reporting job at age 16.

While attending Emory University in 1940, he was hired as a broadcaster and sports director for an Atlanta radio station. He then served as a marine in the South Pacific during World War II, where he wrote for Leathernecks magazine. After the war, his career continued with broadcasting positions for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Giants and the Baltimore Orioles. In 1960 he became the voice of the Detroit Tigers, a position he held for 42 years.

He has interviewed some of the founders of modern baseball and called home games for some of sport's greatest players.

Harwell's place in baseball history has been recognized by his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame (1981, the first active broadcaster to be inducted), Michigan Sports Hall of Fame (1989), Sportscasters Hall of Fame (1991), Radio Hall of Fame (1998) and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (2008). A statue of him was erected in Comerica Park in 2002, the year of his retirement.

Harwell has published several collections of his sports columns and memoirs, in addition to an audio scrapbook of his interviews and broadcasts.

Njabulo Ndebele is vice chancellor and principal of the University of Cape Town, the highest-ranking official.

Ndebele was born in Johannesburg but was sent to Swaziland to be educated, in order to circumvent restrictions imposed by apartheid rule in South Africa. He earned his bachelor's degree from the National University of Lesotho, where he began to write the poetry and fiction that established his literary reputation. He then earned a master's degree from Cambridge University and studied his doctoral degree at the University of Denver. There, he authored "Fools and Other Stories," tales about his childhood black township. The collection won the Noma Award in 1983 as the best book published in Africa.

Nbedele has served in academic positions at the University of the Witwatersrand, National University of Lesotho, the University of the Western Cape and the University of the North in Sovenga, Northern Province, South Africa. He also was a scholar-in-residence at the Ford Foundation in New York.

Through education, he has noted, the values of South Africa's new society will be transmitted to the new generations. Among others, he has encouraged interaction and exchange programs with U-M. Ndebele visited Michigan in 2005 and welcomed President Coleman to the University of Cape Town last month.

Ndebele is the recipient of many honorary doctorates and other awards.

Jack O'Brien is recognized as one of the great directors in the history of the American stage. The breadth of his work ranges from the theaters of Broadway to opera houses, and from poignant dramas to witty comedies.

The Saginaw native earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at U-M. Originally a pre-law student, he was tapped as a replacement for a lead role in "Carousel" — an experience that changed his life. While at U-M he earned a Hopwood Award and authored an award-winning jazz musical with his classmate Bob James.

Originally writing lyrics and libretti for new musicals, as well as directing on Broadway, O'Brien distinguished himself in New York and at one of the nation's greatest regional theaters, the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. He has been associated with the latter for 40 years; more than 25 of them as artistic director and now as artistic director emeritus.

His credits include revivals of Shakespeare, new productions of contemporary dramas, and new musicals such as "The Full Monty" and "Hairspray."

O'Brien won Tony Awards as best director for "Hairspray" (2003), "Henry IV" (2004) and "The Coast of Utopia" (2007), which has been widely praised as a landmark in theatrical history, winning seven Tonys.

O'Brien also directed television drama, including a pioneering telecast of Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth." He won several Drama Desk Awards and in 2002 received the "Mr. Abbott" Award for lifetime achievement. He was voted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre in 1994, and earlier this year he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

Robert Woodruff has used both opportunities and adversity to reinvent his career and life at several critical junctures, allowing him to extend his influence and effect change in extraordinary ways.

Woodruff was raised in Bloomfield Hills, earned his undergraduate degree at Colgate University and his Juris Doctor from the U-M Law School in 1987. By 1989 he was teaching law in Beijing, China, and providing translation services to CBS News during the turmoil at Tiananmen Square.

Woodruff was hired by ABC News in 1996 as a network correspondent for the Justice Department. By 1999 he was reporting on the political unrest of Belgrade and Kosovo. He covered major stories such as the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the South Asian tsunami. He was honored with a George Foster Peabody Award and an Alfred I. du Pont Award.

He was named co-anchor of ABC News in January 2006, and 21 days later sustained a nearly fatal brain injury while reporting on the U.S. military in Iraq.

In his return to broadcast journalism in February 2007, 13 months after being injured, Woodruff used his experience to tell the story of others who have returned from war with similar injuries.

His family has created the Bob Woodruff Family Fund for Traumatic Brain Injury to assist members of the military.

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