Michele Norris, a renowned journalist, will be the 2013 Winter Commencement speaker and receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at the commencement ceremony, the University announced early Monday. Five other distinguished individuals hailing from a variety of fields will also receive honorary degrees from the University.
Norris is best known for being a former host of All Things Considered, National Public Radio’s flagship radio show. She was the organization’s first Black female anchor.
During her time as anchor, Norris regularly interviewed leading statesmen, academics and scientists, cultural icons and professionals from around the world. She currently heads the Race Card Project, a nationwide initiative that gathers perspectives on race and aims to foster dialogue on the subject. The University teamed up with Norris to bring the project to campus in February.
Norris also continues to contribute to NPR as a special correspondent and occasional host.
Before joining NPR, she worked as a correspondent for ABC News, earning professional acclaim for her contributions to the network’s coverage of the Sept. 11 attacks. She is also the author of The Grace of Silence: A Memoir, a 2009 book that takes a retrospective look at her own family’s story in the context of America’s history of race relations. Norris received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and studied journalism at the University of Minnesota.
In an interview Friday, University Provost Martha Pollack said Norris’s time on campus during LSA’s “Understanding Race” theme semester and the Race Card Project demonstrated a commitment to cultivating a dialogue on diversity. Norris also delivered the Martin Luther King Jr. Day convocation in 2012.
“She’s a journalist of major social issues — and the University is very concerned with social issues,” Pollack said. “We have enormous regard for her integrity and commitment to understanding and celebrating diversity in this country. Those are things we value as well.”
During one of her discussions on race earlier this year, Norris said the University’s contribution to the Race Card Project has given her exceptional learning opportunities and insights.
“Michigan definitely has a place in history for all the things it’s pioneered, so there’s a very natural partnership between the University and the Race Card Project,” Norris said in February. “Since we began this year, responses have been pouring in, and they run the gamut.”
The other five individuals receiving honorary degrees from the University are:
Willard L. “Sandy” Boyd: The Rawlings-Miller professor of law and former president of the University of Iowa will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws. Boyd received two degrees from the University of Michigan: his LLM in 1952 and his SJD in 1962. After serving as the University of Iowa’s president from 1964 to 1969, he served as the president of the Chicago-based Field Museum of Natural History from 1981 to 1996. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and helped establish the Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center, which is dedicated to providing information and aid to Iowa-based nonprofits.
William Higuchi: A pharmaceutical scientist and former member of the University’s faculty, Higuchi will be granted an honorary Doctor of Science. Higuchi received his doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry and biopharmaceutics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1956 and was at the University of Michigan from 1962 to 1982, having served as the Albert B. Prescott distinguished professor of pharmacy and as a professor of dentistry. He is currently a professor emeritus at the University of Utah.
As a Japanese-American, Higuchi was interned in a relocation center in Wyoming during World War II and has remained active in the preservation of the former site. He also received the Order of the Rising Sun — the highest generally conferred honor awarded by the Japanese government — in 2011 for his work in both pharmaceuticals and “improv(ing) the social status of Japanese-Americans.”
David Satcher: A former U.S. surgeon general who served under both the Clinton and Bush administrations, Satcher will receive an honorary Doctor of Science. Satcher served simultaneously as surgeon general and assistant secretary of health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 1998 to 2001 and then solely maintained the surgeon general role until 2002. He is the only four-start admiral to serve in those positions.
Since leaving public service, Satcher has worked in various roles at the historically black Morehouse College School of Medicine in Georgia and is currently the director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute within the school. Satcher has criticized disparities in health care provided to racial groups in the United States and supports a single-payer healthcare system.
Satcher will serve as the winter commencement speaker at the Flint campus and will receive his honorary degree there.
Lou Anna Simon: The current president of Michigan State University will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws. Simon served as the institution’s provost from 1993 to 2004, when she was appointed to her current position.
Simon received national attention in 2006 by joining University President Mary Sue Coleman in opposition of the passage of Proposal 2, which banned the use of affirmative action in the admissions process. She has also made economic development a focal point of her presidency, looking for innovative ways to improve Michigan’s competitiveness. In 2012, Simon was selected as the chair of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Executive Committee, the organization’s governing board made up of the highest university presidents and chancellors from around the country.
Helen Herzog Zell: A 1964 University graduate and executive director of the Zell Family Foundation, Zell will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws. In March, the foundation made the largest donation in the history of LSA, giving $50 million for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, which was named in her honor. The foundation has also made high-profile donations to the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University and gave $10 million to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Her husband, Sam Zell, a real estate mogul and former owner of the Tribune Company in Chicago, has also received an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University.
The Winter Commencement ceremony will be on Dec. 15.
—Daily Staff Reporter Sam Gringlas contributed reporting.