Novelist and University English Prof. Charles Baxter, who was approved last week as this year”s winter commencement speaker, says he already knows what kind of message he wants to give graduating seniors during the Dec. 16 ceremony at Crisler Arena.

Paul Wong
Baxter

“Particularly after September 11, it”s important to be realistic about things. That”s the gist of the message I want to send to the students,” Baxter said.

Baxter, who joined the University faculty in 1989, is an adjunct professor and former director of the University”s graduate program in creative writing. He is also the author of several novels and collections of short stories.

His works have been featured in publications including The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and Harper”s Bazaar. Baxter”s most recent novel, “The Feast of Love,” was a finalist for the National Book Award last year.

“We”re really delighted to have someone like Professor Baxter to address the graduating class. I think they will be very pleased with what he has to say,” said Gary Krenz, special counsel to the president.

Also during the commencement ceremony will be the presentation of honorary degrees to Dwight Gourneau, president of NAMTech Inc., a management and technical services consulting firm, and Kapila Vatsyayan, founding director of the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts and former secretary of the Department of Arts and Culture in the Ministry of Education in India.

After serving 27 years as a computer development engineer and manager at IBM, Gouneau retired from his position in 1992. Since then he has made widespread contributions to the technological and economic betterment of American Indian tribes. A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa of North Dakota, Gourneau has encouraged American Indian students to pursue education and careers in math, science, engineering and technology.

Gourneau is the founder of the National American Indian Science and Engineering Fair and has developed math and science teacher enhancement projects through the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.

In addition, he has chaired the AISES Board of Directors as well as the Board of Trustees of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. He has also served on the National Science Foundation”s Committee on Equal Opportunity in Science and Engineering. Gourneau will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Kapila Vatsyayan, a leading advocate of cultural preservation and the humanities, will receive an honorary doctor of fine arts degree. During her tenure in the Ministry of Education in India, she launched various institutions of higher education in the humanities. Vatsyayan fronted a national initiative for art history, cultural awareness and the reprinting of rare books, which improved worldwide accessibility of Indian literature and history.

She has facilitated cultural exchange programs with more than 30 countries and has received honors including the Rajiv Gandhi National Award for Harmony and National Integration.

Honorary degree recipients are selected from a pool of nominations by a committee of faculty, students and alumni, said John Chamberlin, an honorary degree committee member and professor of political science and public policy. Nominees need not have any affiliation with the University, although it is a factor considered by the selection committee.

The nominees were approved last week by the University Board of Regents.

Krenz, a member of the committee, said of the recipients: “They both have demonstrated great adherence to the University”s standards, those standards being commitment to excellence, academics and diversity. Those are the kinds of people we look for, people who have made a significant impact in the domain which they choose to work and have also performed a great public service.”

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