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UM to honor luminaries, students at May commencement exercises

A Miami banker hailed by President Barack Obama for giving $60 million of his own money to his current and former staff, a family practice doctor who started a Gulf Coast clinic in Alabama and went on to become U.S. surgeon general, a medical anthropologist and physician who founded a nonprofit organization that provides “a preferential option for the poor in health care,” and a Harvard law professor who is arguably the most famous constitutional scholar and Supreme Court practitioner in the country are among the dignitaries who will speak and receive honorary degrees at the University of Miami’s May commencement exercises.

During the ceremonies, which will be held May 13-16 at the BankUnited Center on UM’s Coral Gables campus, thousands of graduates will receive newly minted degrees in a wide range of academic fields. With their families, friends, classmates, and instructors cheering them on, each graduate will march across the stage and be congratulated by UM President Donna E. Shalala and their school’s respective dean.

But before that happens, they will receive advice from distinguished luminaries, some of whom will be honored with honorary degrees.

It all starts on Thursday, May 13 at 4 p.m. with a graduate degree ceremony. Master’s and doctoral degrees from all schools and colleges, except the School of Law and Miller School of Medicine M.D. degrees, will be conferred. William Walker, dean and University librarian at UM, will address graduates at this ceremony. A former senior vice president and Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries at the New York Public Library, Walker is responsible for UM’s main library, the Otto G. Richter Library, and the distinctive collections and information programs in music, business, architecture, and the marine sciences. Under his direction, UM Libraries now rank among the top 50 academic libraries in North America.

Three undergraduate degree ceremonies will be held on Friday, May 14. UM trustee Leonard Abess, chairman and CEO of City National Bank of Florida, will speak to graduates at the 8:30 a.m. exercise for the School of Business Administration and College of Engineering. Last year, Abess made national headlines when it became known that he sold a majority stake in City National Bancshares and shared the proceeds—$60 million, to be exact—with his current and former employees. As Abess sat in the first lady’s box during a speech to a joint session of Congress last year, President Barack Obama praised him for his generosity. Four years ago, Abess and his wife, Jayne, donated $5 million to name the Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy at UM.

The nation’s 18th surgeon general, Regina M. Benjamin is America’s Doctor, providing the public with the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and the health of the nation. She will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree and address graduates at the May 14, 12:30 p.m. ceremony for the Frost School of Music and Schools of Architecture, Communication, Education, and Nursing and Health Studies. Benjamin is founder and former CEO of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic in Alabama, which provides health care to the impoverished residents of Bayou La Batre. She also is former associate dean for rural health at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine in Mobile, and immediate past chair of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States. In 1995 she was the first physician under age 40 and the first African-American woman to be elected to the American Medical Association Board of Trustees. Benjamin visited the UM campus earlier this month as a participant in the Clinton Global Initiative University.

Medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer is Maude and Lillian Presley Professor of Social Medicine in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, where he is also chair, and a founding director of Partners In Health, an international nonprofit organization that provides direct health care services and undertakes research and advocacy activities on behalf of those who are sick and living in poverty. He is chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and served for ten years as medical director of a charity hospital in rural Haiti. He has written extensively about health and human rights, and about the role of social inequalities in the distribution and outcome of infectious diseases. Farmer will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree and will address graduates at two UM commencement exercises: The May 14, 5 p.m. ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science’s undergraduate marine science program, and at the Saturday, May 15, 5 p.m. ceremony for the Miller School of Medicine.

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard Law School. He is widely recognized as a liberal scholar of constitutional law and a practitioner before the U.S. Supreme Court. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart from 1967-1968 and became an assistant professor of law at Harvard in 1968, where has taught ever since. He is the author of American Constitutional Law (1978), a treatise in that field, and has argued before the Supreme Court more than 30 times. He taught President Obama at Harvard Law School. He is currently on leave from Harvard to fulfill his new duties as senior counselor for access to justice at the U.S. Justice Department. In that position, Tribe will develop ways to improve legal services for the poor, find alternatives to court-intensive litigation, and strengthen the fairness and independence of domestic courts. He will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws and will speak to graduates at the School of Law commencement exercise on Sunday, May 16 at 2 p.m.

For more information on UM’s May commencement ceremonies, visit

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