Four to receive honorary degrees at Spring Commencement


The Board of Regents has approved four honorary degrees to be awarded at the University of Michigan’s Spring Commencement ceremony May 4 at Michigan Stadium.

This year’s recipients, which were recommended by President Mark Schlissel and approved by the regents Thursday, are:

• Randy W. Schekman, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Doctor of Science

• Mark di Suvero, internationally renowned sculptor and peace activist, Doctor of Fine Arts

• Leslie Uggams, actress and singer, Doctor of Fine Arts

• Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan, Doctor of Laws

Whitmer will deliver the keynote address at the Michigan Stadium ceremony. She will be the sixth sitting governor to deliver a commencement address in the past 40 years.

Schekman will give the address for the Rackham Graduate Exercises on May 3, for those receiving master’s or doctoral degrees through the Rackham Graduate School.

Randy Schekman

A Nobel Prize winner and professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Schekman developed a genetic and biochemical approach to the study of eukaryotic membrane traffic at the university.

Photo of Randy Schekman
Randy Schekman

Schekman’s approach began with a genetic and biochemical dissection of the secretory pathway in the yeast S.cerevisiae. His lab discovered the genes and proteins that assemble proteins into the endoplasmic reticulum membrane, package proteins into coated transport vehicles and deliver vesicles by fusion at a target membrane.

The genes and proteins Schekman’s lab discovered in yeast have counterparts in all eukaryotes and have been implicated in several human genetic diseases. The evolutionary conservation of the pathway discovered in his lab encouraged the biotechnology industry to use yeast as a platform for the production of clinically important human secreted proteins.

Schekman has received several awards, including the Gairdner International Award, the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which he shared with James Rothman and Thomas Südhof.

He is a member of several organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

In 1999, Schekman was elected president of the American Society for Cell Biology. Among other roles, he was the inaugural editor-in-chief of a pioneering open access journal, eLife, launched in 2011. Schekman is an outspoken advocate for public higher education.

Mark di Suvero

Born in Shanghai, China, in 1933, di Suvero immigrated to the United States in 1941 and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from the University of Calfornia, Berkeley.

Photo of Mark di Suvero
Mark di Suvero

An internationally renowned sculptor and pioneer in the use of steel, he began showing his sculptures in the 1950s

Di Suvero is the sculptor of two iconic works on the U-M Ann Arbor campus. “Shang” is a kinetic sculpture that features a suspended platform that swings, and “Orion” is painted bright orange-red, and made of hand-cut, painted steel. “Orion” currently is at di Suvero’s art studio for some conservation and restoration work and expected to be reinstalled sometime this spring.

His architectural-scale sculptures have been exhibited in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Germany, Australia, Japan, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Di Suvero is the first living artist to exhibit in the Jardin des Tuileries and the Esplanade des Invalides in Paris and at Millennium Park in Chicago.

His work is featured in more than 100 museums and public collections, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

An activist for peace and social justice, di Suvero co-founded Park Place Gallery, an artists’ cooperative, in New York City in 1962. In 1977, he established the Athena Foundation to assist artists to fulfill their ambitions. He established Socrates Sculpture Park in 1986 at the site of a landfill in Queens, New York.

Di Suvero has received several honors, including the Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center and the National Medal of Arts.

Leslie Uggams

Uggams is a Tony and Emmy award-winning actress and singer whose career has spanned television, film, music and the stage. She has performed to critical and popular acclaim ever since her first professional appearances at the age of 9 at the Apollo Theater, where she opened for acts like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

Photo of Leslie Uggams
Leslie Uggams

Uggams starred as Kizzy in Alex Haley’s “Roots,” a landmark TV mini-series, and earned a Critics’ Choice Award and Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal. Currently, she can be seen as Leah Walker in the hit television series, “Empire,” and as Blind Al in the films “Deadpool” and “Deadpool2.” She recently co-starred in the HBO original movie “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” with Oprah Winfrey.

On Broadway, Uggams made her musical theater debut starring in “Hallelujah, Baby!” and earned both Tony and Theater World awards. Among her other theater roles, she has starred on Broadway in productions like “Blues in the Night,” and “On Golden Pond.” Uggams continues to tour with her award-winning, autobiographical, one-woman musical “Uptown/Downtown.”

While a student at the Julliard School, Uggams released the first of 10 solo albums she was to record for Columbia Records. She later signed with Atlantic Records.

Uggams is on the Apollo Theater board of directors, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Connecticut.

Gretchen Whitmer

Elected Michigan’s 49th governor in November 2018, Whitmer previously served in the state House of Representatives from 2001-06, and the state Senate from 2006-15.

Photo of Gretchen Whitmer
Gretchen Whitmer

As Senate Democratic Leader, Whitmer negotiated with Republicans to expand health coverage to more than 680,000 residents through the state’s Medicaid expansion. She also brought workers, labor unions and businesses together to fight Michigan’s right-to-work law.

During her time in the Legislature, Whitmer negotiated an increase in the minimum wage with a cost-of-living adjustment, and she worked with both parties on the state’s School Aid Fund.

A lifelong Michigander, Whitmer grew up in Grand Rapids and East Lansing as the daughter of what she calls a “Frank Kelley Democrat” and a “Milliken Republican.” She attended Michigan public schools and graduated from Michigan State University and the MSU College of Law, where she graduated magna cum laude.

In addition to her legislative experience, Whitmer taught at U-M and MSU, and in 2016 she began her tenure as interim Ingham County prosecutor. In that role, she established a new Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit, sped up the rehabilitation of non-violent first-time offenders, and asked the Michigan State Police to investigate the integrity of the county’s evidence room.

(This story has been updated from its original version to reflect action taken at the March 28 Board of Regents meeting.)


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