University bicentennial award celebrates notable alumni

Friday, April 28, 2017 - 5:34pm

Dozens of parents, graduating students and alumni flocked to the North Ingalls Mall in front of Rackham Auditorium Friday afternoon to listen to live music, watch performances by student organizations and meet some of the alumni who will receive the University of Michigan Bicentennial Alumni Award at the University's commencement ceremony on Saturday.

Speaking before the crowd, Steve Grafton, president and CEO of the University's Alumni Association, said this was a good year to be graduating.

"I have a son who's graduating tomorrow, so I just got one of the biggest salary increases I've ever gotten," he said. "But I'll tell you what, it was worth every penny because he's gonna have a great future thanks to this University and the way it's prepared him to be successful. This busy University has done that for 200 years. What a great year to be graduating from the University of Michigan in our bicentennial year as we celebrate all that this University's been doing in education and research globally for two centuries."

Included among the recipients are Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, School of Music, Theatre & Dance graduates from 2006, who won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "City of Stars" from the movie “La La Land,” Christopher Paul Curtis, a 2000 graduate of UM-Flint and Flint native who won a Newberry Medal for his 1999 book “Bud, Not Buddy,” and Abdul El-Sayed, the student commencement speaker in 2007, the outgoing Health Commissioner for the City of Detroit and now a candidate for governor of Michigan.

University President Mark Schlissel joked about El-Sayed's attendance.

"He returns for another commencement, after being our student speaker at his own commencement in 2007, where he upstaged President Bill Clinton," Schlissel said.

Schlissel also emphasized the significance of the award, noting only 20 people would ever receive it.

"The 10 honorees you're about to meet and the 10 we'll honor in December are the only individuals who will ever receive a University of Michigan Bicentennial Alumni award," he said. "Our bicentennial is equally a celebration of our past and our future. These awardees all demonstrate a strong connection to our legacy of excellence and societal impact, and they inspire the entire community."

Babak Parviz, an honoree who received a Master's of Science in Engineering in 1997 and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 2001 from the University, initiated and led the Google Glass project in his time at the company. He currently serves as Vice President of Amazon, Inc. Google Glass is a display designed to be worn as eyeglasses and function like a smartphone. In 2015, the company announced it would stop producing Google Glass due to safety and privacy concerns.

Engineering senior Quincy Davenport, who will graduate from the University on Saturday, was excited by the recipients' résumés.

"They were all impressive," he said. "I didn't know an alumni made Google Glass, or was a major contributor in it, so that was pretty cool."