Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, March 12, 2012

Six to receive honorary degrees at spring commencement ceremonies

CNN chief medical correspondent and U-M alumnus Dr. Sanjay Gupta will deliver the spring commencement address at U-M in Ann Arbor. Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon who has broadcast live from some of the world’s most devastating natural and man-made disasters, also will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters at the 10 a.m. April 28 ceremony in Michigan Stadium.

Others recommended for honorary degrees, to be considered by the Board of Regents at its meeting Thursday, are:

• Maestro José Antonio Abreu, a world-renowned pianist, educator and economist.

• J. Ira Harris, U-M alumnus and a leader in the world of finance.

• Susan Orlean, U-M alumna and acclaimed author.

• Richard Sarns, a pioneer in biomedical engineering.

• Chris Van Allsburg, U-M alumnus, and celebrated artist and author.

Abreu will receive a Doctor of Music. Abreu is a world-renowned pianist, educator, and economist from Venezuela who 35 years ago founded the unique program of musical education known as El Sistema, which has musically trained more than a million young Venezuelans in a network of orchestras, choirs, and other musical organizations.

  José Antonio Abreu

Born in Valera, Venezuela, he studied piano, organ, and harpsichord, graduating from the national conservatory of music in Venezuela in 1957. He also earned two degrees from the Universidad Católica Andres Bello, an undergraduate degree in economics, and a doctorate in petroleum economics in 1961. In addition, he took some graduate courses at U-M.

He pursued successful parallel careers in music and economics, earning the prestigious Symphonic Music National Prize of Venezuela in 1967, and serving on the faculty in economics and law at the Universidad Católica Andres Bello and the Universidad Simón Bolívar.

Throughout Venezuela, El Sistema has established more than 200 centers, which admit children between the ages of 2 and 18 and assign them instruments and instructors. Often practicing for two or three hours every day, these children perform music virtually from the outset of their training.

For his efforts, Abreu has been honored around the world, receiving the Glenn Gould Prize (Canada, 2008), the Puccini International Prize (Italy, 2008), and honorary memberships in the Royal Philharmonic Society (United Kingdom, 2008) and the Beethoven-Haus Society (Germany, 2008). In 2009 he was presented with the Polar Music Prize, given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music for creating “a new hope for the future.” When he received a B’nai B’rith Human Rights Award in 2008, Abreu declared we should “reveal to our children the beauty of music, and music shall reveal to our children the beauty of life.”

Gupta is a neurosurgeon who has excelled in his medical specialty and has become one of the most recognized public health experts in the world because of his reporting on health care and the medical and human crises that are at the heart of natural and man-made disasters. He currently is the chief medical correspondent for CNN, also holding the titles of assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory University School of Medicine and associate chief of the neurosurgery service at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

  Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Gupta was raised in Novi. He received his bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences at U-M in 1990, participating broadly in campus life by singing with the Men’s Glee Club, writing on public health issues for The Michigan Daily and working as a resident adviser. He earned his medical degree at U-M in 1993 and completed his residency in neurosurgery in 2000.

Working as a White House Fellow in 1997, he wrote health care speeches for Hillary Clinton. In 2001 he reported on health issues for CNN while maintaining his schedule of patient care and surgery, then was called to New York City to report on the public health aspects of the tragedy and aftermath of Sept. 11.

He was embedded with the U.S. Navy’s “Devil Docs” medical unit in 2003, reporting from Iraq and Kuwait and even performing life-saving brain surgery in a desert operating room. Throughout the next decade, Gupta became one of the first correspondents for CNN on the scene of disasters around the world, including the Sri Lanka tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

His reporting has led to a News and Documentary Emmy in 2006, and he contributed to CNN reporting that earned the 2005 Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia Award for coverage of the Sri Lanka disaster. Gupta also in 2010 won two Emmys for his reporting on the devastating earthquake in Haiti. He has won the Humanitarian Award from the National Press Photographers Association in 2003, and the Atlanta Press Club named him “Journalist of the Year” in 2004. His two books, “Chasing Life” (2007) and “Cheating Death” (2009) have become bestsellers.

Harris will receive a Doctor of Laws. He is recognized as a remarkable leader in the world of finance, achieving extraordinary success while championing the ideals of U-M everywhere he travels, advocating the values of the university to countless prospective students and supporters.

  J. Ira Harris

Born in New York and raised in the Bronx, he discovered his affinity for business as a child, winning a sales contest for selling newspapers at the age of 8. He enrolled at U-M when he was 16, held a variety of jobs to pay for his education and served on the staff of The Michigan Daily. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1959.

He started his professional career in New York City, and eventually was appointed a senior partner at Lazard Frères & Co. in 1988, where he remained for a decade before founding his own financial consulting firm, J. I. Harris & Associates, at which time he also became the vice chairman of The Pritzker Organization.

Directing the financial strategies at so many prominent firms placed Harris in an expert position to offer advice regarding the investments of U-M, which for decades he has done as a member of the Investment Advisory Committee of the university. He also offered support that created the J. Ira Harris Center for the Study of Corporate Finance, making the business school a leader in this field starting in the 1980s.

At U-M he also served on the Athletic Advisory Board, the President’s Advisory Group, and the recent Michigan Difference Campaign Steering Committee. He has created scholarships, endowed professorships, and provided support to LSA, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

Honors include the Distinguished Community Service Award from the United Hospital Fund of New York City, the Human Rights Medallion from the American Jewish Committee, the Horatio Alger Award and the Outstanding Alumnus Award of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, where he also has served as the commencement speaker.

Orlean, who will be a commencement speaker at University Graduate Exercises and at the Department of English ceremony, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters. She has inscribed her vibrant career with the authentic narratives of ordinary lives and incidents that she elevates to extraordinary levels through her prose.

  Susan Orlean

Born and raised in Cleveland, she began to admire nonfiction magazine writing in publications such as Life magazine while she was still a child, attracted to eloquently candid stories of real lives. She attended U-M and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1976.

After graduation Orlean advanced to writing music reviews and features for the Willamette Week in Portland, Oregon, also contributing to Rolling Stone and Vogue. Moving to Boston in 1982, she wrote for the Boston Phoenix and Boston Globe, and began to author books in addition to articles.

After writing her first two books — “Red Sox and Bluefish: And Other Things that Make New England New England” (1987) and “Saturday Night” (1990), Orlean expanded her investigative zeal. She and began to scrutinize an eccentric plant dealer in Florida who had been accused of poaching rare orchids. This research culminated in “The Orchid Thief” (1997), a fascinating exploration of Floridian swamps, environmentalists, orchid collecting, and confidence men, which eventually was recast as the award-winning motion picture “Adaptation,” in which Meryl Streep portrayed Orlean.

Her profiles in Rolling Stone, Esquire, and the New Yorker were collected in the book “The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup” (2002), a volume that offers a captivating array of characters, from the first female matador of Spain to “The Maui Surfer Girls.” Her most recent book is “Rin Tin Tin” (2011), a biography of the original Rin Tin Tin, an orphaned German shepherd rescued on a World War I battlefield and elevated to movie star and international icon. Orlean also has brought her craft to university campuses, as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2004 and as the Hopwood Lecturer at U-M in 2005.

Sarns will receive a Doctor of Engineering. Sarns has dedicated his life to pioneering work in biomedical engineering, creating technological advances that have improved the surgical outcome for countless patients around the world. For more than 50 years, Sarns has collaborated with many prominent surgeons at U-M, inventing tools and devices that have remedied complications that arose in medical cases.

  Richard Sarns

Born and raised in Mount Clemens, he came of age during World War II and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He returned from the Navy to work in his family’s machine component business, also attending Lawrence Institute of Technology to study industrial engineering, after which he worked at the Argus Camera Co. and attended U-M to pursue mechanical engineering and business courses.

In his home, he and his wife, Norma, created a studio that included a workshop, and they began to design and produce prototypes of new devices for medical procedures. In 1960 he founded Sarns Inc., a corporation that developed, manufactured and marketed medical devices, particularly those required for cardiovascular surgery procedures.

After a quarter-century of inventive design, the Sarnses sold their firm to the 3M Co. and began to investigate the role of lifestyle changes as a preventive tool in health care. With that goal in mind, they founded NuStep, which manufactures and markets specialty exercise machines and equipment for physical rehabilitation, designed for use in hospitals, physical therapy centers and wellness centers.

Honors include the Heritage Award from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (1991), the Paul Harris Distinguished Service Award of the Rotary Club (1997), and the Amersham Award of Excellence and an honorary fellowship by the American Academy of Medical Administrators (2004).

U-M awards include the Stephen M. Ross School of Business 2004 Michigan Emerging Industrial Award for Leadership in the Medical Device Community. The Department of Surgery established the Dick Sarns Innovation Award in 2009 to allow others “to innovate and follow in the footsteps of pioneers like Dick Sarns.” Most recently, the Michigan Perfusion Society Award was conferred on him in 2011.

Van Allsburg, who will be commencement speaker at the School of Art & Design ceremony, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters. Van Allsburg’s work has been exhibited in major museums, and he wrote and illustrated the award-winning books “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express.”

  Chris Van Allsburg

He was raised in Grand Rapids, and found an early affinity with art, but had abandoned a structured study of art when he applied to U-M. Eventually majoring in sculpture, he graduated in 1972 from the College of Architecture and Design (which then included studies in art) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He proceeded to earn his Master of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1975 and set up a sculpture studio, beginning to exhibit his sculpture.

After receiving encouragement from his wife, Lisa, also a graduate in art from U-M, Van Allsburg created his own stories for his illustrations, which led to “The Garden of Abdul Gasazi” (1979), which earned his first major award, the Caldecott Honor Medal.

Van Allsburg then wrote and illustrated “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express,” both of which earned him Caldecott Medals. Both books also were made into award-winning motion pictures. He has been presented with a vast array of awards for his books and illustrations, and his artwork has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the American Institute of Graphic Arts Book Show, and in many other venues, including the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

In many interviews, he has credited the opportunities provided by U-M, and has often visited the Ann Arbor campus to give lectures and to counsel current students in the School of Art & Design. In 2010, he gave the annual Sarah Maxwell Lecture at the university.