Five recommended for Winter Commencement honorary degrees


Update: The Board of Regents approved these honorary degree recipients at its Dec. 5 meeting.

Five leaders in fields of endeavor that reach from the Ann Arbor arts community to the global fight for public health have been recommended to receive honorary degrees at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus’ 2019 Winter Commencement.

They include a former Federal Reserve chair, a former CEO of the Meijer Inc. retail chain, a physician and digital pioneer who has helped fight catastrophes around the globe, the CEO of national financial services firm TIAA, and the former president of the University Musical Society.

The commencement address will be delivered by Hendrik (Hank) Meijer, executive chairman of Meijer Inc., at 2 p.m. Dec. 15 at Crisler Center.

Meijer, who also is the author of two biographies, has been recommended to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Others recommended for honorary degrees are:

  • Lawrence Brilliant, Doctor of Humane Letters, founder of an international nonprofit to fight blindness and a fund to combat global threats, and a former executive at Google.
  • Roger W. Ferguson Jr., Doctor of Laws, president and chief executive officer of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund.
  • Kenneth Fischer, Doctor of Fine Arts, president emeritus of the University Musical Society and a leader in the national arts community.
  • Janet L. Yellen, Doctor of Laws, an economist and former chair of the Federal Reserve System and the White House Council of Economic Advisors.

The degrees are pending approval by the Board of Regents at its Dec. 5 meeting.

Hendrik (Hank) Meijer

Meijer is the oldest son of Frederik G. H. Meijer and the grandson of Hendrik Meijer, the original founder of Meijer Inc., a superstore retail chain founded and still headquartered in Michigan.

Headshot of Hendrik Meijer
Hendrik Meijer

He became CEO of the chain in 2001, just prior to his 50th birthday, and served as CEO for two years, after which he became co-CEO and also the co-chairman. When he stepped down from those positions in 2017, the company employed approximately 77,000 people with an annual revenue of $16.6 billion. He is currently the company’s executive chairman.

Meijer graduated from U-M in 1973 with a degree in literature. From 1973-79, Meijer was a journalist, and his passion in the years following his graduation revolved around historical research and writing.

One of his major projects was a biography of Arthur Vandenberg, a U.S. senator from Michigan during the mid-20th century. Meijer also wrote a biography of his grandfather and namesake, Hendrik Meijer, titled “Thrifty Years: The Life of Hendrik Meijer.”

Meijer is vice chairman of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation. He also serves on the executive committee of the Food Marketing Institute and is a trustee of the Kettering Foundation, the National Constitution Center and The Henry Ford.

He is a member of the U-M President’s Advisory Group and the Ford School Committee, and recently served on the advisory committee for the university’s bicentennial.

Lawrence Brilliant

Brilliant’s contributions in medicine and other fields have helped improve life for people worldwide. He was on the United Nations team that led the World Health Organization’s successful smallpox eradication program.

Headshot of Lawrence Brilliant
Lawrence Brilliant

He also founded the Seva Foundation, an international nonprofit that has helped restore sight to nearly 3 million people across the globe through its work to eliminate preventable and curable blindness.

Brilliant is the founding president and chairman of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, and is senior adviser to Jeff Skoll, helping him build the Jeff Skoll Group. He was previously vice president of Google and the inaugural executive director of, the charitable arm of Google. He also co-founded The Well, a pioneering digital community.

Brilliant studied philosophy as an undergraduate at U-M, earned his medical degree from the Wayne State University School of Medicine and returned to U-M for his Master of Public Health degree.

He was on the U-M faculty from 1977-86, as assistant professor of health planning and international health, and later as associate professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health. He authored two books and dozens of scientific articles on infectious diseases, blindness and international health policy.

Brilliant worked for the WHO and UNICEF in the areas of polio eradication and blindness. He spent 10 years in India and has volunteered as a physician in several disasters, as well as a first responder for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s bio-terrorism effort after the anthrax attacks in the United States in 2001.

Brilliant was founding chair of the National Bio-Surveillance Advisory Subcommittee and is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Advisory Council on Catastrophic Risks. He was elected to the Council on Foreign Relations in 2008, and is on the boards of the Skoll Foundation and the Foundation.

Recent awards and accolades include the TED Prize in 2006, Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and Top 20 Scientists and Thinkers (2008), UN Global Leadership Award (2008) and the Peacemaker Award (2005). In 2009, “The Final Inch,” a documentary about polio eradication that Brilliant conceived and funded, won an Oscar nomination.

Roger W. Ferguson Jr.

Ferguson is president and chief executive officer of TIAA, a Fortune 100 financial services organization that is the leading provider of retirement services in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields.

Headshot of Roger Ferguson
Roger Ferguson Jr.

He formerly served as vice chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, representing the Federal Reserve on several international policy groups and serving on key committees. As the only governor in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001, he led the Fed’s initial response to the terrorist attacks, taking actions that kept the U.S. financial system functioning while reassuring the global financial community that the economy was not paralyzed.

Prior to joining TIAA in April 2008, Ferguson served as head of financial services for Swiss Re, chairman of Swiss Re America Holding Corp., and as a member of the company’s executive committee. He was an associate and partner at McKinsey & Co. Inc., from 1984-97.  He worked prior to that as an attorney at the New York City office of Davis Polk & Wardwell.

Ferguson is a member of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents and serves on the New York State Insurance Advisory Board. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-chairs its Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education. He also serves on the boards of Alphabet Inc., General Mills Inc., and International Flavors & Fragrances Inc.

Additionally, Ferguson is chairman of The Conference Board and serves on the boards of the American Council of Life Insurers, the Institute for Advanced Study and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He is a fellow of the American Philosophical Society and a member of the Economic Club of New York, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Group of Thirty.

Ferguson served on President Barack Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and its predecessor, the Economic Recovery Advisory Board. He also co-chaired the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on the Long-Run Macro-Economic Effects of the Aging U.S. Population.

Ferguson holds Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor degrees and a Ph.D. in economics, all from Harvard University.

Kenneth Fischer

Fischer is known for his significant contributions to the arts. He is president emeritus of the University Musical Society, having served as president from 1987 until his retirement in 2017.

Headshot of Kenneth Fischer
Kenneth Fischer

UMS is an independent, multidisciplinary performing arts organization that presents 60 to 90 performances every season, sponsors an extensive education program, commissions and presents new work, and hosts many artists’ residencies. 

In 2015, President Barack Obama presented UMS with the National Medal of Arts, the highest award in the arts given by the U.S. government. Fischer accepted the award on behalf of UMS during a ceremony at the White House.

Fischer has contributed to the arts presenting field as a speaker, writer, consultant and U.S. State Department cultural ambassador to Brazil, China, Lithuania and Mexico. He serves or has served on the boards of the Interlochen Center for the Arts, National Arts Strategies, Sphinx Organization, Association of Performing Arts Professionals, International Society for the Performing Arts, Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, Chamber Music America, CultureSource and Ann Arbor SPARK. 

Before working for UMS, Fischer was a higher education association executive and management consultant in Washington, D.C. He has degrees from The College of Wooster and U-M.

Janet L. Yellen

Yellen is an economist who served as chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System from 2014-18. She was also vice chair of the Federal Reserve board from 2010-14, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 2004-10, and chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors from 1997-99.

Headshot of Janet Yellen
Janet Yellen

Yellen is professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was the Eugene E. and Catherine M. Trefethen Professor of Business and professor of economics from 1999-2006. She has been a faculty member there since 1980.

Prior to Berkeley, she was an assistant professor of economics at Harvard University from 1971-76, an economist for the Federal Reserve board from 1977-78, and a lecturer at the London School of Economics from 1978-88.

Yellen took leave from Berkeley for five years starting in August 1994. She served as a member of the Board of Governors until February 1997, and left to become chair of the Council of Economic Advisers through August 1999. She also chaired the Economic Policy Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development from 1997-99.

Yellen is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has been president of the Western Economic Association, vice president of the American Economic Association, is also a former fellow of the Yale Corp., and is a Distinguished Fellow in Residence with the Brookings Institution’s economic studies program.

Yellen has received several academic honors during her career, including the Wilbur Cross Medal from Yale in 1997. She graduated summa cum laude in 1967 from Brown University with a degree in economics, and received her doctorate in economics from Yale University in 1971.


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