In an exclusive interview last week, University President Mary Sue Coleman said officials will announce today that Jeff Daniels has been chosen to headline Winter Commencement.

Daniels has been selected to deliver the commencement address and will receive an honorary degree. Helen Thomas, Edward Wilson and Grace Boggs will also attend winter graduation ceremonies and receive honorary degrees. The selections, which require approval by the University’s Board of Regents, will be released in the regents’ agenda today at noon.

Coleman said she is extremely excited about the arrival of the four attendees and looks forward to their time on campus.

“They’re wonderful individuals and they will bring some real distinction to winter commencement,” Coleman said.

Daniels, a Michigan native who lives in the nearby city of Chelsea, is well known for his Broadway performances, musical albums and many film appearances. He has been nominated three times for the Golden Globes and once for a Tony Award. Daniels is the founder of the Purple Rose Theater Company in Chelsea and is a spokesman for the Pure Michigan Campaign, which aims to increase travel and tourism in the state.

“The reason we chose him is because he’s been such a prolific actor both in movies and on Broadway,” Coleman said. “We’re very proud of what he’s done for Michigan.”

Thomas, a widely known and well-respected reporter, has worked in the White House Press Corps since John F. Kennedy took office.

Born in Detroit, Thomas was the first woman to serve as an officer of the National Press Club, the first woman to serve as president of the White House Correspondents Association and the first woman to become a member of the Gridiron Club — a group of some of the most influential leaders in the media.

Coleman, who first met Thomas a year and a half ago in Dubai, said she is eager to see her again.

“She’s just a kick and just as sharp as ever, though she’s getting up there in age,” Coleman said of the 89-year-old Thomas. “She has some unbelievably wonderful stories.”

Wilson, a research professor at Harvard University, specializes in myrmecology — the study of ants. He won the Crafoord prize, which is similar to a Nobel Prize, in 1990 and two Pulitzers for his work, one in 1979 and the other 1991.

“He’s just a terrific person,” Coleman said.

Boggs, who has lived in Detroit since 1953, is an activist known for her work with civil liberties and labor issues. She has earned lifetime commitment awards from both the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights and the Michigan Women’s Federation.

Coleman said she was happy Boggs would be attending winter commencement and called her “a really wonderful person.”

Honorary degree recipients are chosen from a pool of nominees collected from University students, staff and faculty. The Honorary Degree Committee — chaired by Rackham Dean Janet Weiss — reviews nominations, sends for input from reviewers across campus and then makes recommendations to the regents. Regents consider the recommendations and make the final decision at one of their monthly meetings.

Though the commencement speaker typically receives an honorary degree, the University president can choose someone not nominated for an honorary degree to be the commencement speaker.

“We always have an active slate and each year we pick from that active slate,” Coleman said. “It’s a pretty long process that people go through.”

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