Students celebrate their graduation at the 2018 Spring Commencement at The Big House on Saturday Alec Cohen/Daily. Buy this photo.

Bryan Stevenson, notable civil rights lawyer and social justice activist, will give the commencement address during the University of Michigan’s virtual Spring Commencement Ceremony on May 1, the University Record announced Thursday morning. 

Stevenson has worked to exonerate prisoners on death row for more than 30 years and is a bestselling author. His memoir, “Just Mercy,” was adapted as a motion picture in 2019, where actor Michael B. Jordan portrayed Stevenson.

Stevenson is also the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which provides legal representation to prisoners who have been wrongfully convicted, improperly sentenced or abused while imprisoned. 

Through his work with the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson has won major legal battles to overturn wrongful sentencing. During his time with the nonprofit, he has saved more than 135 wrongfully convicted prisoners from the death penalty. 

In 2012, Stevenson successfully brought a case before the U.S. Supreme Court in which he argued mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder without the opportunity for parole was in violation of the Eighth Amendment. 

This announcement comes one month after the University said a virtual ceremony would be held for the Class of 2021 rather than an in-person event. The virtual ceremony is slated to include student performances and speakers in addition to the conferring of degrees.

The University also released information Thursday for graduates regarding various socially-distanced photo sessions at Michigan Stadium. The photo sessions are set to begin April 6, and graduates will be able to have free professional photographs taken with other graduating friends and classmates. 

University President Mark Schlisssel told the Record  the decision to hold photo opportunities in Michigan Stadium is a result of feedback received from graduating students. Since the confirmation of virtual commencement, some students and families have pushed the University to try for a safe in-person commencement event.

“We’ve heard from them that they want inspiring commencement speakers and the opportunity to have a celebration in Michigan Stadium,” Schlissel said in the press release. “We created our photo event in the Big House and invited influential leaders to share their message and make this spring special for our graduates.”

Daily Staff Reporter Alec Cohen can be reached at

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