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Wayne State University to award 5 honorary degrees at May commencement ceremonies

April 22, 2009

Five people who have distinguished themselves in widely diverse career fields will receive honorary doctoral degrees from Wayne State University at annual commencement ceremonies, May 7-8, at WSU's Tom Adams Field and during the Law School commencement on May 18 at the Detroit Opera House. The honorees are as follows, in alphabetical order:

U.S. Congressman John Dingell
Ron Gettelfinger, UAW president
The Honorable Marilyn Kelly, Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court
S. Epatha Merkerson, actress
Stanford R. Ovshinsky, scientist and entrepreneur

Congressman John Dingell, who represents Michigan's 15th Congressional District, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for his lifelong dedication to environmental protection, support of better health care for all Americans, strong support of the automobile industry and an unprecedented career in Congress, where he is the longest-serving member of the House in the nation's history.

Over the past five decades, he has written many well-known laws protecting health and the environment, as well as the rights of workers and consumers. He also fought for passage of the Endangered Species Act and laws that address the Children's Health Insurance Program. In 2003, he took a lead role in creating the "Do Not Call" list to help families stop unwanted telemarketing. He also is chairman emeritus of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Congressman Dingell will be honored during ceremonies at 10 a.m. Friday, May 8, at Tom Adams Field.

Ron Gettelfinger will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. As president of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement workers of America International Union (UAW), he represents more than one million active and retired members around the world. First elected president in 2002, he has presided over the union during years of prosperity as well as some of the auto industry's most difficult times, when union members have been asked to accept wage and benefit concessions in order to keep the Detroit automakers viable.

In 2008, the UAW president joined representatives of Detroit's Big Three automakers before the U.S. Congress to request taxpayer-financed loans that were considered vital to the companies' survival. His willingness to negotiate with industry leaders has resulted in much-needed financing that helped safeguard nearly three million auto-related jobs. Under Gettelfinger's leadership, the UAW has continued its fight for fair trade agreements that include provisions for worker rights. He has been an outspoken advocate for making health care accessible and affordable for every person in the United States.

He will receive his honorary degree during ceremonies at 3 p.m. Friday, May 8, at Tom Adams Field.

Chief Justice Marilyn Kelly of the Michigan Supreme Court will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. She earned her law degree from Wayne State and has been a strong and consistent friend of the university and its Law School, where she is a member of the Board of Visitors. Kelly is in her second eight-year term on Michigan's highest court. She previously was a judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals for six years. Before her career as a jurist, she served on Michigan's Board of Education for 12 years, two as president. She has taught French at high school and college levels and was an associate or partner at three law firms.

She has been on the board of the Women's Survival Center in Pontiac, on the development committee of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac and on numerous advisory boards. From 1998-2003 she was co-chair of the Michigan State Bar's Open Justice Commission. She was an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association, a panel member on the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board, and is now a member of the Michigan State Bar Representative Assembly and the Michigan Bar's Family Law Council.

Chief Justice Kelly will be honored during the WSU Law School commencement at 5 p.m. Monday, May 18, at the Detroit Opera House.

S. Epatha Merkerson, perhaps best known for her role as Lt. Anita Van Buren in the Law & Order television series, began her acting career as a theater major at Wayne State, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in recognition of her profound contributions to the arts. Her work in Lackawanna Blues, a TV movie, won her Golden Globe, Emmy and Screen Actors Guild awards. She also has been nominated twice for a Tony Award. Other honors include the Drama Desk Award, the Gracie Allen Award, the Obie Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress. In 2001, Wayne State's College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts honored her with its Arts Achievement Award.

Merkerson's first television appearance was as a guest star on The Cosby Show in 1984. Her earliest regular TV role was as the mail woman on Pee-wee's Playhouse. She will receive her honorary degree during ceremonies at 3 p.m. Thursday, May 7, at Tom Adams Field.

Stanford R. Ovshinsky, an innovative scientist and founder of Energy Conversion Devices Inc. (ECD Ovonics), headquartered in Rochester Hills, Mich., will receive an honorary Doctor of Science degree. His company developed the nickel-metal hydride battery used in many hybrid autos. Ovshinsky's scientific contributions have transformed the field of amorphous and disordered materials, yielding unexpected physical, chemical and electronic mechanisms of great importance and resulting in more than 400 patents. He is a member of the Michigan Chemical Engineering Hall of Fame and was named Michigan Scientist of the Year by Impression 5 Science Museum. He was profiled in Japan's American Genius (1987) on PBS, named Corporate Detroiter of the Year by Corporate Detroit magazine (1993) and a Hero of the Planet by Time magazine (1999), among other recognition.

Ovshinsky serves on the Board of Visitors for the WSU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and on the Advisory Board of the university's Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He retired from ECD in 2007 and started his own research firm, Ovshinsky Innovation, with the goal of making solar cells and batteries more competitive with fossil fuels. His honorary degree citation notes that he had "the foresight to anticipate the world's 21st century environmental and energy needs five decades ago."

He will be honored during commencement ceremonies at 10 a.m. Thursday, May 7, at Tom Adams Field.

Wayne State University is a premier institution of higher education offering more than 350 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to more than 31,000 students.