At each commencement, the University recognizes accomplished individuals from varying fields, whether it’s law, biology, performing arts, public service, or business, by awarding and presenting the scholars with honorary degrees. Even though it remains an important tradition for each graduation ceremony, and one of the most prestigious recognitions within higher education, the process behind finding degree recipients, and what an honorary degree actually entails, can be a little unclear to students.

Since beginning in the 1800s, over 1,000 people have been awarded an honorary degree at UMich. This means that instead of receiving a degree through credits and academic achievements, recipients are granted degrees based off of their post-graduate accomplishments. Among them, Henry Ford, Albert Kahn, Margaret Bourke-White, Arthur Miller, Robert Frost, Dick Costolo, Michele Norris, Spike Lee, Barack Obama, and Ruth Ginsberg.

To make the search for recipients a little easier, former President Harold T. Shapiro created an Honorary Degree Committee in 1986, whose job is to recommend and review nominees for each ceremony. When selecting candidates, the committee looks for individuals whose accomplishments stand out within their fields, and also tie into the University’s core values.

Six individuals were recommended to receive honorary degrees at the spring commencement ceremony on May 3. Per tradition, the speaker is usually awarded an honorary degree, alongside the other qualified candidates.


Mary Barra

This year’s speaker serves as the Chief Executive Officer for General Motors, making her the first female CEO of a major automotive company. She is recognized for her contributions to manufacturing and engineering, as well as her support of science and technology education. Barra ranked No. 1 on Fortune magazine’s list of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” in 2014.

Adele Goldberg

Goldberg is known for her innovations in the computer science field, including programming and the development of the personal computer. In 1967, she earned her degree in mathematics from UMich, and currently acts as the director of Neometron Inc., a consulting firm.

José Antonio Abreu

Pursuing careers in both music and economics, Abreu founded the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela in 1975. Since its establishment, the program has trained over a million Venezuelans, and has inspired UMich’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance to launch a pilot version at Mitchell Elementary School in Ann Arbor.

Dr. James L. Curtis

After completing medical school at UMich in the top fifth of the class, Curtis worked as a clinician and educator. He is the author of “Blacks, Medical Schools and Society” and “Affirmative Action in Medicine: Improving Health Care for Everyone.” He has spent his life focused on social justice and increasing opportunity for those struggling in poverty.

Daniel Okrent

An accomplished journalist and author, Okrent has served as editor-at-large for Time Inc., editor-in-chief at Harcourt Brace Inc., as well as managing editor of Life magazine, alongside other positions. In 1980, he invented Rotisserie League baseball, which prompted the fantasy sports craze that remains popular today. He will be the keynote speaker at Rackham’s Graduate ceremony on May 2.

Marshall Weinberg

Weinberg is recognized for his commitment to philanthropy, human rights, and women’s reproductive justice. Along with serving on the Dean’s Advisory Committee and Honors Program Advisory Committee, he has sponsored various fellowships and prizes for accomplished students. He earned a degree in philosophy from UMich in 1950.

Don’t forget to join the commencement conversation online with #MgoGrad! See you Saturday!