Dr. Sanjay Gupta to speak at graduation

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By Paige Pearcy, Daily News Editor
Published March 11, 2012

Nearly two decades after he graduated from the University’s Medical School, Sanjay Gupta will return to his home state to deliver this year’s Spring Commencement speech on April 28 at the Big House.

Gupta, a native of Novi, currently serves as CNN’s chief medical correspondent, where he contributes to various CNN shows and is the anchor of the self-titled show, “Sanjay Gupta M.D.,” which airs on weekends. He is also a practicing neurosurgeon at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and authored two books about medicine, and his first novel will be released tomorrow.

In an exclusive interview with The Michigan Daily on Friday, University President Mary Sue Coleman said Gupta serves as an influential example of what University graduates can aspire to become.

“We thought he so represents Michigan alums and the impact that they can have on the world,” Coleman said. “In so many areas, he has really become a spokesperson who has tremendous influence in the country so I think for young people he really does represent a terrific role model.”

Gupta was on vacation last weekend and unable to be reached for comment, according to his assistant.

Gupta started school at the University as an undergraduate in 1986, and then continued on to the University’s Medical School, specializing in neurosurgery through Inteflex — a program no longer offered at the University that granted high-school students admission to the University for their undergraduate studies and medical school.

At the request of Medical School students, Gupta returned to the Medical School in 2009 to deliver their commencement speech. Medical School Dean James Woolliscroft said he was pleased with Gupta’s 2009 address, and expects Gupta’s upcoming commencement speech to showcase his commitment to humanity.

“He did a superb job then, and I fully expect he’ll do a superb job for commencement this spring as well,” Woolliscroft said.

Woolliscroft said he remembers Gupta’s impressive academic work as a student.

“He certainly was very, very capable,” Wooliscroft said. “He excelled as a medical student, and he also excelled as a neurosurgical resident. He has a very broad interest for many years going back to the time of training.”

In addition to giving the keynote address, Gupta will receive a Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Susan Orlean, a University alum, novelist and writer for The New Yorker, has accepted an invitation to be the speaker at the University Graduate Exercises on April 27 in Hill Auditorium, and she will also receive a Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Coleman said she expects the student reaction to these speakers to be positive because of their status as University alums.

“I think the fact that they’re both well-known, accomplished and from us (will make people) have a lot of pride,” Coleman said.

Gupta was nominated to the University’s Honorary Degree Committee, a group designated to select recipients of University Honorary Degrees, last year and was added to the list of possible recipients nominated every winter and spring when selections are made. The committee and the University’s Board of Regents must approve Gupta, along with the other honorary degree recipients, at their monthly meeting this Thursday.

“We try to balance interests, we try to balance areas across the University … so that we give students a chance to see this broad spectrum of accomplishments,” Coleman said.

Four additional honorary degree recommendations will be recommended at the meeting, including José Antonio Abreu, J. Ira Harris, Richard Sarns and Chris Van Allsburg. Coleman said she is excited for this year’s recipients, calling them a “great fleet.”

Additionally, Coleman is recommending University alum Chris Van Allsburg, the author of “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express,” for a Doctor of Humane Letters.

Van Allsburg has won the Caldecott Medal, an award given annually to the author of an exceptional children’s picture book in America by the Association for Library Service to Children, in 1982 for “Jumanji” and 1986 for “The Polar Express,” according to the ALSC website. Both children’s books have been turned into major motion pictures.

A Venezuelan musician and educator who completed some of his graduate work at the University, Abreu is the founder of El Sistema, a youth program that teaches music to underprivileged children, and he will receive a Doctor of Music degree.

“He uses the string education to bring young people out of poverty and hundreds of thousands of young people in Venezuela are part of these orchestras,” Coleman said. “I think that’s going to be just a terrific (thing) to bring him and honor him for what he’s done in the world.”

Harris, a University alum who served on the University’s Investment Advisory Committee will be awarded a Doctor of Laws degree. Harris, a notable figure in the financial world serves as the chairman of the recently established consulting firm J. I. Harris & Associates.

Richard Sarns, a biomedical engineer and inventor who hails from Ann Arbor, will be given a Doctor of Engineering at Thursday’s meeting. Sarns collaborated with doctors at the University Hospital to develop the Sarns machine, a device used during open-heart surgery which is now used around the world.