Strong supporters of higher education were chosen to speak at this spring’s commencement exercises by the University Board of Regents.
William Gray, president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, will speak at the undergraduate ceremony, and Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami and former U.S. secretary of health and human services for President Clinton, will deliver an address at commencement exercises for Rackham Graduate School.
Gray and Shalala, along with Donald Glaser, professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley, and John Rich, television and film director and producer, will be receiving honorary degrees at the commencement ceremonies.
Rackham Assistant Dean Homer Rose said the process for choosing commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients can take several months.
“The regents’ bylaws mandate the membership of an honorary degree committee chaired by the dean of the graduate school,” Rose said. “Anyone can nominate someone and the President’s Office solicits nominations from the University community.”
The honorary degree committee meets two times a year to gather information about the nominees and decide whether or not to recommend individuals to the regents, Rose said.
The President’s Office then puts together slates with a mixture of people for degree recipients and speakers for the regents to approve.
“We want to have some balance – such as not having all Supreme Court justices one year,” Rose added. “These are busy people. They can’t all come whenever we want them to. It’s that wide kind of balance that we value.”
Gray will receive his honorary degree as Doctor of Laws. As a faculty member and professor of history and religion, Gray has taught at St. Peter’s College, Jersey City State College, Montclair State College, Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Temple University.
He served as the U.S. House of Representatives majority whip and chairman of the Democratic Caucus from 1978 until 1991, when he joined the UNCF.
Gray moved the UNCF’s headquarters to northern Virginia, developed an electronic system for linking their offices to member colleges and created the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute to conduct research on African American students.
Shalala will also receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. She is most well-known for her position as U.S. secretary of health and human services from 1993 until 2000, in which she directed welfare, social security and Medicare reform.
Shalala has committed a large portion of her life to the improvement of higher education as president of Hunter College, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and as a tenured political science professor at Columbia University, City University of New York and University of Wisconsin.
Glaser, who will be receiving an honorary Doctor of Science degree, has direct ties to the University of Michigan.
“In 1949, just after I got my degree, I taught there for 10 years as a professor of physics,” Glaser said.
Glaser is one of the youngest scientists ever to be awarded a Nobel Prize in physics. He developed the bubble chamber, an instrument used to observe the behavior of subatomic particles, during his time at the University.
Despite his positions on the Biotech Companies Boards of Directors and other awards, Glaser said he is honored to receive an honorary degree from the University.
“Just as the name implies, it’s a very great honor to receive a degree from a university for which I have great affection,” Glaser said.
Rich, who studied English language and literature, is a University alum and member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
He is perhaps best known for directing the television show “All in the Family” from 1971 until 1975. He received two Emmy awards for directing and producing the show.