Six to receive honorary degrees at U-M spring commencement ceremonies

March 15, 2012

ANN ARBOR—CNN chief medical correspondent and University of Michigan alumnus Dr. Sanjay Gupta will deliver the spring commencement address at U-M in Ann Arbor.

Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon who has broadcast live from some of the world’s most devastating natural and man-made disasters, also will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters at the 10 a.m. April 28 ceremony in Michigan Stadium.

Also receiving honorary degrees at commencement are:

  • Maestro José Antonio Abreu, a world-renowned pianist, educator and economist.
  • J. Ira Harris, U-M alumnus and a leader in the world of finance.
  • Susan Orlean, U-M alumna and acclaimed author.
  • Richard Sarns, a pioneer in biomedical engineering.
  • Chris Van Allsburg, U-M alumnus, and celebrated artist and author.

The honorary degrees were approved March 15 by the U-M Board of Regents.

Gupta has become one of the most recognized public health experts in the world because of his reporting on health care and the medical and human crises that are at the heart of natural and man-made disasters. He currently is the chief medical correspondent for CNN, also holding the titles of assistant professor of neurosurgery at Emory University School of Medicine and associate chief of the neurosurgery service at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Gupta was raised in Novi. He received his bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences at U-M in 1990, participating broadly in campus life by singing with the Men’s Glee Club, writing on public health issues for The Michigan Daily and working as a resident adviser. He earned his medical degree at U-M in 1993 and completed his residency in neurosurgery in 2000.

Abreu will receive a Doctor of Music. Abreu is a world-renowned pianist, educator and economist from Venezuela who 35 years ago founded the unique program of musical education known as El Sistema, which has musically trained more than a million young Venezuelans in a network of orchestras, choirs, and other musical organizations.

Born in Valera, Venezuela, he studied piano, organ, and harpsichord, graduating from the national conservatory of music in Venezuela in 1957. He also earned two degrees from the Universidad Católica Andres Bello, an undergraduate degree in economics, and a doctorate in petroleum economics in 1961. In addition, he took some graduate courses at U-M.

Harris will receive a Doctor of Laws. He is recognized as a remarkable leader in the world of finance, achieving extraordinary success while championing the ideals of U-M everywhere he travels, advocating the values of the university to countless prospective students and supporters.

Born in New York and raised in the Bronx, he enrolled at U-M when he was 16, held a variety of jobs to pay for his education and served on the staff of The Michigan Daily. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1959. He started his professional career in New York City, and eventually was appointed a senior partner at Lazard Frères & Co. in 1988, where he remained for a decade before founding his own financial consulting firm, J. I. Harris & Associates, at which time he also became the vice chairman of The Pritzker Organization.

Orlean, who will be a commencement speaker at University Graduate Exercises and at the Department of English ceremony, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters. She has inscribed her vibrant career with the authentic narratives of ordinary lives and incidents that she elevates to extraordinary levels through her prose.

She attended U-M and earned her bachelor’s degree in 1976. After graduation Orlean advanced to writing music reviews and features for the Willamette Week in Portland, Oregon, also contributing to Rolling Stone and Vogue. Moving to Boston in 1982, she wrote for the Boston Phoenix and Boston Globe, and began to author books in addition to articles.

Sarns will receive a Doctor of Engineering. Sarns has dedicated his life to pioneering work in biomedical engineering, creating technological advances that have improved the surgical outcome for countless patients around the world. For more than 50 years, Sarns has collaborated with many prominent surgeons at U-M, inventing tools and devices that have remedied complications that arose in medical cases.

Born and raised in Mount Clemens, Sarns attended U-M to pursue mechanical engineering and business courses. In 1960 he founded Sarns Inc., a corporation that developed, manufactured and marketed medical devices, particularly those required for cardiovascular surgery procedures. After a quarter-century of inventive design, the Sarnses sold their firm to the 3M Co. and began to investigate the role of lifestyle changes as a preventive tool in health care. With that goal in mind, they founded NuStep, which manufactures and markets specialty exercise machines and equipment for physical rehabilitation, designed for use in hospitals, physical therapy centers and wellness centers.

Van Allsburg, who will be commencement speaker at the School of Art & Design ceremony, will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters. Van Allsburg’s work has been exhibited in major museums, and he wrote and illustrated the award-winning books “Jumanji” and “The Polar Express.”

He was raised in Grand Rapids, and found an early affinity with art, but had abandoned a structured study of art when he applied to U-M. Eventually majoring in sculpture, he graduated in 1972 from the College of Architecture and Design (which then included studies in art) with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He proceeded to earn his Master of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1975 and set up a sculpture studio, beginning to exhibit his sculpture. After receiving encouragement from his wife, Lisa, also a graduate in art from U-M, Van Allsburg created his own stories for his illustrations.