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Four individuals have been recommended to receive honorary degrees at the University of Michigan’s 2018 Winter Commencement: Lynn Conway, a transgender activist and computer scientist; Rita Dove, a former U.S. poet laureate; James Hackett, an alum and CEO of Ford Motor Company; and Elizabeth Nabel, Michigan Medicine’s first female chief of cardiology. All are pending approval by the Board of Regents. 

Conway, who is scheduled to receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree, will be delivering the commencement speech at the ceremony. She is a former University professor and associate dean of the College of Engineering, whose research focused on visual communications and control. She made significant contributions to computer science, including the invention of dynamic instruction scheduling, a method in which computer hardware can issue instructions out of order, as well as pioneering the revolution in very large-scale integration design.

Many years prior to joining University faculty in 1985, Conway worked at IBM Research, where she was fired when she began her gender transition. After retiring from the University in 1998, Conway started publicly discussing her transgender history and has worked for the past 20 years to protect and expand the rights of transgender people.

Nabel, president of Brigham Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, has also been recommended to receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree. Nabel was previously worked at the University Medical School and was named director of the Cardiovascular Research Center in 1992. She was appointed Michigan Medicine’s chief of cardiology in 1997 and was the first woman to fill the role.

As a renowned biomedical researcher, Nabel has focused her research on furthering the understanding of the genetic causes of cardiovascular diseases. She has authored over 250 articles, holds 17 patents and served as the director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Dove, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, is scheduled to receive her Doctor of Fine Arts at Winter Commencement. Dove joined University of Virginia faculty in 1989 and is currently a commonwealth professor of English. She was named U.S. poet laureate in 1993, the second woman, first African American and youngest person to carry the title ever.

Former President Bill Clinton awarded Dove the National Humanities Medal in 1996 and former President Barack Obama presented her with the National Medal of Arts in 2011. She is one of only four authors to ever receive both awards.

Hackett is set to receive his honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Hackett received his Bachelor of General Studies in 1977 and played football under coach Bo Schembechler. After graduation, he worked for and eventually became president and CEO of Steelcase Inc., making him one of the youngest CEOs of a Fortune 500 company. After retiring from this position in 2014, Hackett became the University’s interim athletic director. Hackett began his 16 month-tenure in 2014, and oversaw new branding for the department following scandals surrounding the departure of predecessor Dave Brandon. He negotiated the University’s largest apparel contract ever with Nike and hired football coach Jim Harbaugh. He and his wife Kathy continue to support the University through two endowments for Public Policy students and donations to programs at the University Depression Center.


The four individuals are scheduled to receive their honorary degrees on Dec. 16 at the Crisler Center.

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