Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to return to his alma mater next month to address this year’s graduating class as the Spring Commencement speaker.
University President Mary Sue Coleman said in an exclusive interview with The Michigan Daily last week that Snyder will deliver the commencement address on April 30. However, she said the University’s Board of Regents must approve the plan first, which they will likely do at their monthly meeting on Thursday.
Snyder earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s of business administration and juris doctorate from the University. Coleman is recommending that Snyder be given a Doctor of Law degree.
“I think one of the messages, I hope, to graduates is here we have a UM alum — triple alum as a matter of fact — who went out and had a successful career, and he’s come back in public service, public service in a way he hopes he can use his knowledge and expertise to help build a foundation for the future of the state,” Coleman said of Snyder.
Before becoming Michigan’s 48th governor, Snyder served as CEO and chair of the board of Ardesta, LLC, a venture capital firm Snyder co-founded. While at Gateway between 1991 and 2007, Snyder also served as executive vice president, president and chief operating officer, chair of the board and interim CEO. Snyder is also the co-founder of Ann Arbor SPARK, a regional business accelerator.
Snyder’s post as governor is his first position held in public office.
“I admire the fact that he was willing to run (for governor) in a time when many states are facing challenges,” Coleman said.
During their Thursday meeting — which will be held in Detroit for the first time — the regents are also expected to approve a slew of nominations for honorary degrees to be given at commencement. Among those recipients, Coleman said she is proposing that honorary degrees be given to former U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers (R–Mich.), William Clay Ford, Jr., the executive chair of Ford Motor Company, Spike Lee, a well-known film and television producer director and writer, and Stephen Ross, a University alum, real estate mogul and prominent donor to the University.
Additionally, the Board of Regents will be asked to approve an honorary degree for Washington Post Columnist Eugene Robinson, who has accepted an invitation to speak at Rackham Graduate School’s graduate exercises in Hill Auditorium on April 29.
Coleman said this year’s lineup of honorary degree recipients represent beacons of creativity and hard work.
“It is quite amazing … ” Coleman said. “I think they will naturally serve as role models for our graduates.”
Coleman is recommending that Robinson, also a University alum and former co-editor in chief of the Daily, be given a Doctor of Humane Letters. Robinson is an award-winning journalist, having won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for a series of columns he wrote while covering then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
“(He’s) a former Daily reporter who went on to have a spectacular career,” Coleman said. “It should generate, and I know it will, lots of pride from the alums.”
Ross is being recommended for an honorary Doctor of Law degree. The Business School’s namesake, Ross is well known on campus for his philanthropy, including a $100 million gift to the Business School. He is now the chair and CEO of The Related Companies, L.P., a real estate firm based in New York.
“(Ross is) a tremendous philanthropist not only to the Ross School, but to other areas in the University as well,” Coleman said.
Coleman is also recommending that Ehlers receive an honorary Doctor of Law degree. Ehlers, who used to represent Michigan’s third district in the U.S. House of Representatives, is also a retired physicist and professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he served as chair of the physics department.
“With his advocacy for science and a scientist himself, he understood what it took to be able to support great science,” Coleman said. “He was a tireless advocate for the sciences in Congress, and we’re very proud to honor him.”
Pending the regents’ approval, Ford is expected to receive a Doctor of Law degree at commencement as well. Ford has served in numerous leadership roles at the Ford Motor Company, including his current position as executive chair and former position as CEO.
“The Ford Motor Company has been a tremendous partner with the University in research, and over the years, they’ve been so generous,” Coleman said. “We are so pleased that Ford has done well and is on the road, we hope, to recovery.”
Lee is expected to receive a Doctor of Fine Arts. Calling him a “creative genius,” Coleman said, “We’re very pleased to honor his work.”
Lee’s production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, has produced more than 35 movies. Lee has also received an Emmy Award and has been nominated for two Academy Awards.
Commencement is set to take place on Saturday, April 30 at 10 a.m. in Michigan Stadium. Rackham’s University Graduate Exercises are scheduled for the day before at 9:30 a.m. in Hill Auditorium.