The University of Michigan’s Spring Commencement ceremonies will celebrate the bicentennial-year graduates with a unique Michigan Stadium event that features voices from the past and the present, Oscar-winning musicians and special alumni awards.
The April 29 event will celebrate the 2017 graduating class and honor the university’s 200-year history.
“Our bicentennial commencement gives our community the opportunity to honor the graduates of the Class of 2017, along with the amazing 200-year-old legacy of excellence and impact that they are joining,” says President Mark Schlissel.
The ceremony will begin with a commissioned bicentennial fanfare composed by Roshanne Etezady, a lecturer and alumna in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. It will be followed by an ROTC commissioning ceremony led by a former U.S. Navy “top gun” pilot, Vice Admiral Walter E. “Ted” Carter, superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy.
It will include presentations by an array of university leaders, faculty members and graduating students. A presentation directed toward future classes of U-M graduates will be shared by current U-M students.
“Our team of 18 students has been working hard to make sure the video is a success,” says Jin Kim, U-M student and producer of the student video. “Our goal is to feature diverse voices and to learn about the intricacies and collective moments of the Michigan student experience.”
There also will be a multimedia performance that will include portions of historic commencement addresses delivered live by current university dignitaries. The video presentation is being produced by Malcolm Tulip, assistant professor of theatre and drama in SMTD.
“For years now, we have become used to seeing great speeches and events on video. In the early days of the university this documentation did not exist or was lost,” Tulip says. “This project assembles a series of excerpts from significant speeches from the university’s past. In seven minutes, graduating students and their families will gain a sense of their place in the university and nation’s history.”
Graduates will be seated on the field of Michigan Stadium. This break from tradition is reserved for special occasions. It also allows more seating for the families and friends of graduates. Each graduating student will be able to get an increased number of tickets to the spring ceremony at the Big House.
U-M faculty members are invited and encouraged to march in the commencement processional and attend the historic event.
“Graduation, as always, is principally about the academic achievements of the students who are graduating,” says Paul N. Courant, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “We are pleased and proud to honor them and their achievements.”
To celebrate their role in the creation of the university, delegates from the 12 federally acknowledged American Indian tribes in Michigan have been invited to the ceremony. Additionally, representatives from all Michigan counties, and delegates from other universities and colleges also are invited. These honored guests will join the commencement processional.
Instead of bestowing honorary degrees, the university will honor 20 alumni — 10 at each commencement ceremony during 2017 — with a special Bicentennial Alumni Award. The awards were designed to highlight the excellence and impact of recent graduates and reflect a desire to acknowledge the university’s past contributions and herald the future achievements of the Class of 2017 and future classes. Award recipients were chosen by a campus committee based on nominations from the community.
“The alumni awards give us a very special opportunity to recognize individuals from our more recent past who can inspire our community through their outstanding ongoing work,” Schlissel adds.
The ceremony will include a musical performance by two of the Bicentennial Alumni Award winners, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The songwriters this year won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for the song “City of Stars” from the movie “La La Land.” They are planning a performance that will include students from SMTD.
Bicentennial Alumni Award recipients
The university will honor 10 alumni during the Spring Commencement ceremony. Award recipients include:
• Candice Yee-June Chang (Bachelor of Science, ’01, architecture, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; Bachelor of Fine Arts, ’01, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, graphic design).
According to The Atlantic, Chang’s public art piece “Before I Die” is “one of the most creative community projects ever.” She created the interactive public art piece to battle grief and spark community dialogue.
• Christopher Paul Curtis (Bachelor of Arts, ’00, general studies, UM-Flint).
Over the past two decades, Curtis’ books have received rave reviews and top honors. His first book, “The Watsons go to Birmingham,” won a Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Honor. It was the only book for young readers recognized in The New York Times’ Top One Hundred Books of the Year (1996).
• Abdul M. El-Sayed (Bachelor of Science, ’07, political science and biology, LSA and Medical School.
El-Sayed was appointed health officer and executive director of the city of Detroit in 2015. Under his leadership, the health department emerged as a state and national leader in public health innovation, environmental justice and lead elimination.
• Carol Jantsch (Bachelor of Fine Arts, ’06, SMTD).
Jantsch has been principal tuba of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2006, a position she won during her senior year at U-M, making her the first female tuba player in a major symphony orchestra. An in-demand soloist as well, Jantsch holds faculty positions at Yale and Temple universities. The winner of many awards and honors, her most peculiar award was winning the “Tuba Throwing” contest at a tuba player conference in Finland in 2005.
• Cynthia Koenig (Master of Science, ’06, School of Natural Resources and Environment; Master of Business Administration, ’11, Stephen M. Ross School of Business).
Koenig is the founder and CEO of Wello, an award-winning social venture that co-creates disruptive innovations designed to provide better, more reliable access to safe water.
• Annie Maxwell (Bachelor of Arts, ’00, LSA; Master of Public Policy, ’02, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy).
As president of Skoll Global Threats Fund, Maxwell works to combat pandemics, water insecurity, nuclear proliferation and climate change by identifying leverage points where focused energy can have an outsized impact. Prior to being hired by Skoll, Maxwell received a White House Fellowship, one of roughly a dozen chosen annually based on remarkable professional achievement early in their career.
• Babak Parviz (Master of Science in Engineering, ’97, College of Engineering; Ph.D., ’01, CoE).
Parviz is the creator of Google Glass and former director at Google X. His work has been on display at the London Museum of Science and has received many awards including the NSF Career Award, MIT TR35 and Time Magazine’s award for best invention of the year. In 2012, he was selected by Ad Age as one of the 50 most creative people in the United States.
• Benj Pasek (Bachelor of Arts, ’06, SMTD) and Justin Paul (Bachelor of Fine Arts, ’06, SMTD).
Pasek and Paul are a Golden Globe- and Oscar-winning songwriting team. Their work can currently be seen on Broadway in the hit show “Dear Evan Hansen.” They also wrote the music and lyrics for the musicals “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” “Dogfight,” “James and the Giant Peach” and “Edges,” which was written and first produced when they were SMTD students. Their lyrics for the song “City of Stars” for the film “La La Land” garnered numerous awards, including a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Song.
• Damon A. Williams (Ph.D., ’02, School of Education, Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education).
As senior vice president at the Boys & Girls Club of America, Williams leads the program strategy impacting 4 million diverse youth in the areas of academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles for the world’s largest youth development organization. The author of “Strategic Diversity Leadership” and co-author of “The Chief Diversity Officer,” his award-winning research has impacted diversity strategies at post-secondary institutions worldwide. Prior to joining BGCA, he founded the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement and was the inaugural chief diversity officer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he also served on the faculty. Williams also is the Rackham Graduate Exercises speaker on April 28 in Hill Auditorium.
Ten individuals also will be honored during the Winter Commencement ceremony. Award recipients include:
• Rebecca Alexander (psychotherapist, extreme athlete, disability advocate).
• Tonya Allen (president and CEO, The Skillman Foundation).
• Carla Dirlikov Canales (mezzo-soprano; U.S. State Department Cultural Envoy; winner, Sphinx Medal of Excellence).
• Darren Criss (actor, singer, songwriter).
• Catherine Drennan (professor of biology and chemistry, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
• Senait Fisseha (director of international programs, Susan T. Buffett Foundation).
• Heather Hill (Jerome T. Murphy Professor in Education, Harvard University).
• Matthew Kotchen (professor of economics; associate dean, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies).
• Jesmyn Ward (novelist; winner of the National Book Award for “Salvage the Bones”; associate professor at Tulane University).
• Charles Woodson (entrepreneur and philanthropist; Heisman Trophy awardee and former U-M football player; former NFL Player).
(Note: This article has been amended from its original version to include new biographical information for Damon Williams.)