Six to receive honorary degrees at Spring Commencement


General Motors Co. Chief Executive Officer Mary Barra will deliver the Spring Commencement address for the Ann Arbor campus May 3 at Michigan Stadium.

Barra, who became the first female CEO of a major automaker on Jan. 15, will receive an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree.

• The Office of University and Development Events is looking for volunteers at the Spring Commencement ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. May 3. For more information or to volunteer, email

More information about commencement, such as tickets and parking.

She is one of six individuals recommended for honorary degrees who will be considered by the Board of Regents at its meeting March 20 on the Ann Arbor campus. The others are:

• José Antonio Abreu, world-renowned pianist, educator and economist, Doctor of Music.

• Dr. James L. Curtis, U-M alumnus, psychiatrist, champion of social justice and philanthropist, Doctor of Science.

• Adele Goldberg, U-M alumna, computer scientist and entrepreneur, Doctor of Science.

• Daniel Okrent, U-M alumnus, author, editor, journalist and cultural historian, Doctor of Humane Letters.

• Marshall Weinberg, U-M alumnus businessman, humanitarian and philanthropist, Doctor of Laws.

Mary Barra

Mary Barra

Barra has established an exemplary career in the predominantly male world of the auto industry. She is recognized internationally for her vision, business acumen, engineering skills, leadership and passion for automobiles, as well as her strong support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

Barra grew up in Waterford in a General Motors family. Her father was a tool-and-die maker at Pontiac Motor Division for 39 years. Her own automotive career began in 1980 as a General Motors Institute co-op student. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering in 1985 from the institute, since renamed Kettering University, she received a Master of Business Administration degree from the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1990.

She has contributed to GM in many roles, including as plant manager at Detroit Hamtramck Assembly. More recently, she was vice president of global manufacturing from 2008-09 and vice president of global human resources from 2009-11, prior to being named senior vice president of global product development in February 2011.

As executive vice president of global product development and global purchasing and supply chain from August 2013 until her recent promotion, she was responsible for the design, engineering, program management and quality of GM cars, trucks and crossover vehicles around the world. Barra has strengthened General Motors’ product development and has championed fuel-efficient engines and lighter-weight vehicles.

She serves on the boards of the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, General Dynamics and Kettering University, and recently was elected to the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council.

In 2014, Barra ranked No. 1 on Fortune magazine’s list of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business.” She also has been listed among Forbes magazine’s “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women,” and received the Kettering Alumni Association’s Management Achievement Award in 2010 and the SAE Foundation Industry Leadership Award in 2013.

José Antonio Abreu

José Antonio Abreu

Abreu is the founder of the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela, better known as El Sistema.

Born in Valera, Venezuela, Abreu studied piano, organ and harpsichord, graduating from Venezuela’s National Conservatory of Music. He earned two degrees from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, an undergraduate degree in economics and a doctorate in petroleum economics. He also studied at U-M.

Abreu pursued successful parallel careers in music and economics, earning the prestigious Symphonic Music National Prize of Venezuela in 1967 and teaching at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello and the Universidad Simón Bolívar.

Since its founding in 1975, El Sistema has established more than 320 training centers throughout Venezuela and has trained more than a million young Venezuelans through a network of orchestras, choirs and other musical organizations.

The School of Music, Theatre & Dance, collaborating with the School of Social Work and School of Education, recently launched a pilot version of El Sistema at Mitchell Elementary School in Ann Arbor. The pilot is part of the university’s Third Century Initiative, established to inspire innovative programs that enhance learning and develop creative approaches to the world’s great challenges.

Abreu, who was named a Goodwill Ambassador for Music and Peace by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1998, originally was scheduled to receive a U-M honorary degree in 2012 but was unable to attend that ceremony.

He has received many other honors, including the Glenn Gould Prize, Puccini International Prize, and honorary memberships in the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Beethoven-Haus Society. The Royal Swedish Academy of Music awarded him the Polar Music Prize in 2009, and in 2013 he received the Culture of Peace Special Award from the Goi Peace Foundation. 

Dr. James L. Curtis

James Curtis

Throughout his distinguished career as a psychiatrist, teacher and philanthropist, Curtis has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to social justice and increasing opportunity for people in poverty, regardless of their race or gender.

Born in Jeffersonville, Ga., he grew up in Albion and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Albion College in 1943. The only black student in his U-M Medical School class, Curtis earned his medical degree in 1946, graduating in the top fifth of the class.

After completing his psychiatry residency, he worked as a clinician, educator and administrator, serving first at the Long Island College of Medicine and then Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn in New York City.

He was associate dean of student affairs at Cornell Medical School for 10 years before joining the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he was director of the department and supervised psychiatry training at Harlem Hospital Center for 20 years. After retiring in 2003, he and his wife, the late Vivian Curtis, returned to Albion.

Curtis is the author of two important books, “Blacks, Medical Schools and Society” (1971) and “Affirmative Action in Medicine: Improving Health Care for Everyone” (2003), both published by U-M Press.

James and Vivian Curtis, who earned a Master of Social Work degree in 1948 from U-M’s School of Social Work, have been generous supporters of the university. Their gift made possible the James L. and Vivian A. Curtis Gallery of African and African American Art launched at the Museum of Art in 1998. In 2007, they funded the Vivian A. and James L. Curtis School of Social Work Research and Training Center.

Adele Goldberg

Adele Goldberg

A computer scientist and entrepreneur, Goldberg is widely known for her innovative breakthroughs in computer science, especially in the areas of object-oriented programming, programming language theory and development of the personal computer.

Currently, as founder and director of the consulting firm Neometron Inc. and technology adviser in the health care private equity firm Pharma Capital Partners, she is working on new ways for virtual communities to support collaboration.

Born in Cleveland, Goldberg grew up in Chicago, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics in1967 from U-M, and a master’s degree in 1968 and doctorate in 1973, both in information science from the University of Chicago.

She joined Xerox as a researcher in 1973 at its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where she managed the System Concepts Laboratory. She, along with Alan Kay, revolutionized computer programming in the late 1970s with development of Smalltalk-80, the first fully object-oriented programming language. It was designed to enable professionals and learners to create sophisticated systems by reusing elements of existing software.

She left PARC in 1988 to co-found ParcPlace Systems, where she served as chief executive officer and president until 1991 and as chair until 1995.

Before founding Neometron, she was chief technology officer and new development manager at the educational technology company AgileMind Inc., from 2002 to 2006.

Goldberg served as president of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) from 1984-86 and as editor of the ACM journal Computer Surveys. She was named an ACM fellow in 1994 and is a member of the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame. The University of Chicago presented her with its Alumni Professional Achievement Award in 2012.

Daniel Okrent

Daniel Okrent

Daniel Okrent has excelled as an author, editor, journalist and cultural historian. He also invented Rotisserie League baseball in 1980, which initiated the fantasy sports craze, and advanced the field of media criticism as The New York Times’ first public editor.

Born and raised in Detroit, Okrent was a Michigan Daily features editor in the late 1960s. After earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969, he was an editor at Alfred A. Knopf Inc. and Viking Press, and editor-in-chief at Harcourt Brace Inc. He also founded New England Monthly and was managing editor of Life magazine and new media editor and then editor-at-large at Time Inc., retiring in 2001 to write “Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center” (2004), a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in history.

Okrent edited “The Ultimate Baseball Book” (1979, revised in 2000), wrote “Nine Innings” (1985) and co-authored “Baseball Anecdotes” (1989). He wrote “The Way We Were: New England Then, New England Now” (1989) and “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” (2011), which won the American Historical Association’s Albert J. Beveridge Prize.

Appointed The New York Times’ first public editor in 2003, Okrent evaluated the paper’s accuracy and objectivity. His columns subsequently were published in “Public Editor Number One: The Collected Columns (with Reflections, Reconsiderations and Even a Few Retractions) of the First Ombudsman of The New York Times” (2006).

He has been an invited speaker at U-M’s Knight-Wallace Fellows programs and Penny W. Stamps Speaker Series. He is a Society of American Historians fellow, a Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art trustee, a member of the Authors Guild board, and a board member and past chair of the Smithsonian Institution National Portrait Gallery.

Okrent will be the keynote speaker at Rackham’s University Graduate Exercises May 2 at Hill Auditorium.

Marshall Weinberg

Marshall Weinberg

As a businessman, humanitarian and philanthropist, Weinberg exemplifies the Michigan tradition of leadership and service to society. He is deeply committed to U-M and higher education, international justice, and women’s reproductive rights.

Weinberg earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy in 1950 from U-M and studied philosophy at Harvard University and business at the Columbia Graduate School of Business before launching his successful career with the New York investment firm Herzfeld & Stern.

Throughout his life, he has worked to raise awareness and funds to improve the lives of people around the world. Among organizations that have benefited from his leadership are the United Jewish Appeal, where he served as national vice chair, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute in Israel, which engages in applied social research.

The university, LSA, Institute for Social Research, School of Natural Resources and Environment and Museum of Art all are stronger because of his tireless service and philanthropy. He served as vice chair of the National Leadership Cabinet and co-chaired the Tri-State Campaign Leadership Committee for U-M’s 2004-08 Michigan Difference Campaign. In 2008, he was recognized with the David B. Hermelin Award for Fundraising Volunteer Leadership. 

In addition to serving on the LSA Dean’s Advisory Committee and Honors Program Advisory Committee, he has endowed a distinguished university professorship, graduate fellowships and graduate student prizes in the Department of Philosophy, the Marshall Weinberg Cognitive Science Symposium, and graduate student support in the Jean & Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and the Department of Anthropology. He has established endowments in SNRE and ISR’s Population Studies Center. He also supports the American Museum of Natural History Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

— Mary Jo Frank is a freelance writer for the University of Michigan.


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