MacArthur Fellow Jesmyn Ward named winter commencement speaker

Monday, November 20, 2017 - 3:09pm

Tulane University professor Jesmyn Ward, a MacArthur Fellow, will deliver the University of Michigan’s winter 2017 commencement address.

Ward earned a master’s of fine arts from the University in 2005. She is an award-winning author of lyrical prose and graphic portrayals of Black Americans in rural Mississippi. She is known for discussing topics of racism, poverty, family and community in her work.

Ward earned five Hopwood Awards for her fiction while attending University and became the first woman to win two National Book Awards in fiction. In her response to the invitation, she stated in a press release that she hopes to motivate students to change the world for the better.

"We are proud that a U-M graduate of Jesmyn Ward's talent, intellectual caliber and societal influence has agreed to address our graduates at Winter Commencement," stated University President Mark Schlissel in the release.

The press release also announced the 10 Bicentennial Alumni Award recipients who will be honored at the commencement ceremony. The award bestowed to alumni in honor of the University’s Bicentennial represents the impacts of recent graduates. Previously, 10 alumni were honored at the spring commencement ceremony. 

In addition to Ward, recipients include Darren Criss, who graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and notably starred in “Glee” and “American Horror Story: Hotel,” as well as Carla Dirlikov Canales, who graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in music and is the first opera singer to earn the Sphinx Medal of Excellence.

Recipients who graduated from LSA include Rebecca Alexander, who won the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Books for a Better Life Award for her memoir about a genetic disorder that is causing her to lose her sight and hearing, and Tonya Allen, who was named one of the most influential women in 2016 by Crain’s Detroit Business for her pursuit to make Detroit healthier and more equitable for children.

Honorees from the Medical School include Cathy L. Drennan for her work in determining the structure of an enzyme involved in DNA synthesis, and Senait Fisseha, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, who is known as a global leader in expanding reproductive health services in developing countries.

Others include Heather Hill, the Jerome T. Murphy Professor in Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education who researches professional development, teacher evaluations and mathematical teaching, as well as Matthew Kotchen, professor of economics and associate dean of academic affairs at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, who serves on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Economics Advisory Committee.

Charles Woodson, who is another honoree, but who will not be in attendance, played football for the University from 1995 to 1997 and won the Heisman Trophy. He played 18 seasons for the NFL and established his namesake foundation to support research at the University’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.