Meet the 2012 honorary degree recipients

By Alexandra Kukulka

There are some celebrities, like Lady Gaga, whom everyone knows about. But there are also many people who do great things but less are familiar, such as the 2012 honorary degree recipients.

As reported by The Chronicle on April 9, President Warrick L. Carter sent out an email April 2 announcing the 2012 Honorary Degree Recipients.  An honorary degree is given to an invidual whose life work embodies Columbia’s mission. The following recipients were chosen because of their bodies of work.

Phil Ramone

With 14 Grammy awards and 33 nominations, including a Technical Grammy for his lifetime of contributions to the recording industry, Phil Ramone is considered one of the most prolific music producers in the record industry.

Ramone, a musical prodigy, played the violin for the Queen of England when he was 10 years old, according to Pantelis Vassilakis  Audio Arts & Acoustics chair who nominated Ramone for the degree.

Ramone played an integral role in pioneering many technological developments in the music industry, including support for the compact disc and high definition recording, according toCarter’s email.

Ramone received his most recent Grammy for Pop Album of the Year last February for “Tony Bennett Duets II,” which he worked on with artists such as Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga and Faith Hill, Vassilakis added.

He said he believes students will benefit from meeting Ramone because he is successful and passionate about what he does.

“Phil Ramone exemplifies critical, scientific, artistic and commercial success in the sophisticated manipulation of sound as an artist, scientist and technologist,” Vassilakis said.

Ramone will be honored and introduced by Vassilakis May 5 at 9 a.m. during the first Commencement ceremony.

Lee Flaherty

Lee Flaherty received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of California at Berkley, and went on to work for a San Francisco-based company that later transferred him to Chicago, according to the email. He worked in Chicago for seven years at three different marketing companies before founding his own marketing firm, Flair Communications,in 1964.

According to Flaherty, he  wanted to study pharmaceutical science but changed his mind when he noticed how quickly people bought products advertised at the drug store where he worked.

His business first consisted of a three-person staff on the third floor of a “dilapidated brownstone,” according to the email. He was able to make the business successful when he began to implement a new marketing concept.

“When I founded Flair, I said, ‘We are not going to work on speculation anymore,’” Flaherty said. “Everybody said ‘You are never going to get any business,’ but our business was excellent from the very first day, and within a period of time we actually changed the industry.”

He was named Markting Executive of the Year by the American Marketing Association in 1971, 1985 and 2001 according to Shanita Akintonde, associate professor in the Marketing Communication Department.

“When you look at Columbia College and what our mission is, Lee Flaherty definitely serves as an example,”

Akintonde said. “He embodies a lot of our core principles.”

Flaherty will be honored and introduced by Akintonde May 5 at 12:30 p.m. during the second Commencement ceremony.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

Philip-Lorca diCorcia is known for creating images that range from documentary to theatrically staged photography, according to the email.

To further his career in photography, diCorcia first went to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1977 and pursued his master’s degree at Yale University in 1979.

His advice to students is to find another career because photography has changed.

DiCorcia has had numerous exhibitions and is now represented by David Zwirner Gallery, a contemporary art gallery. In 2009, his critically acclaimed solo show, “Thousand,” featured an installation of 1,000 Polaroid photographs. His fashion photography has also been published in W magazine.

Natasha Egan, director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, nominated him because the Fashion and Photography departments share a commencement ceremony this year.

“He has become quite well-known but can also show artists how to start with a vision, how doors open and how doing one thing can lead to something else,” Egan said.

DiCorcia will be honored and introduced by Egan May 5 at 4 p.m. during the third Commencement ceremony.

Steve James

As the director of the film “Hoop Dreams,” Steve James has won many major awards, including a Peabody and the Robert F. Kennedy Award, according to the email.

Before he became a director, James received a bachelor’s degree in communications with a concentration in radio journalism at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. During his senior year, he realized he had a passion for film that led him to enroll in the film program at Southern Illinois University.

His award-winning films, which also included “The New Americans” and “The Interrupters” have been shown during many film festivals.

According to James, his biggest struggle as a director was having to start at the bottom once he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a production assistant on TV commercials.

Other challenges he dealt with as a director were getting financial support to start films, making a living to provide for his family and putting in almost seven years of work for each film.

James is currently working with Bruce Sheridan, the Film & Video Department chair, on the documentary “Head Games” to explore brain trauma in sports.

“For whatever reason, we ended up working on this film together,” Sheridan said. “That just shows the students that their teacher, the department chair and this kind of filmmaker exist in the same world.”

James will be honored and introduced by Sheridan during the fourth Commencement ceremony May 6 at 9 a.m.

Warren Spector

Video game designer Warren Spector was an avid “Dungeons and Dragons” fan as a boy and describes himself as an amateur gamer who walked into the career after dropping out of college. He received a bachelor’s degree in teaching from Northwestern University and went to the University of Texas for a master’s in radio, television and film.

“It’s so pathetic,” Spector said. “I did my orals, I finished all my course work, I defended my dissertation topic and wrote the first three chapters and then dropped out to make games. My mother stopped crying about a year ago.”

In 1983, Spector, a cartoon enthusiast, created his first game, “Toon: The Cartoon Roleplaying Game.”

But it was his game “Deus Ex,” which won numerous awards, that seemed to bring out his innermost creativity.

“There are very few times in your life that you close your eyes and imagine what something can be,” Spector said. “Three years later, you open your eyes and there it is, pretty much as you imagined it.”

He was able to reintroduce Mickey Mouse as a superhero in his most recent game, “Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two.” In this game, Spector also had the opportunity to reintroduce Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first cartoon star before Disney lost the rights to the character in 1928.

“As a lifelong Disney fan, to get to work with the most recognizable icon on planet Earth and make a Disney game, that was just a dream come true,” Spector said.

According to him, the biggest challenge in game design is the quality put into mainstream games and the amount of people a designer has to work with to make it happen.

According to Tom Dowd, assistant professor in the Interactive Arts & Media Department, he nominated Spector because he is globally respected and well-liked.

“Spector is a great resource and a great font of knowledge,” Dowd said. “He has a great critical eye, [and] I think it will be a very strong opportunity for students to not only meet and speak with [Spector] but get him to take a look at their stuff.”

Spector will be honored and introduced by Dowd during the fifth Commencement ceremony May 6 at 12:30 p.m.

Mavis Staples

Chicago native Mavis Staples began her singing career with her family in the soul-gospel ensemble “Staple Singers,” according to Carter’s email. The group was very successful from the ’50s through the ’70s, during which Staples released a series of solo albums.

“Being able to sing with my father, my brother and sisters was a blessing,” Staples said in an email. “I learned most everything from my father.”

As a Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer, she has had many acclaimed albums, such as 2000’s “Have a Little Faith.” She attributes her father, who died in 2000, as its major inspiration.

She said her most recent album, “You Are Not Alone,” is an effort to send a positive message to the world because of all the negativity that is surrounding it.

Staples said she considers her voice a gift from God. She added that she doesn’t play any instruments, which explains why she doesn’t know what key she is singing in.

Staples advises all music majors, singers in particular, to take care of their voice.

“With all the touring, interviews and talking I have to do, I have to be really careful with my voice,” she said. “I often have to not talk backstage, or whisper when I do need to speak. It’s important because this is my gift, and I need to take care of it.”

Staples will be honored and introduced by Terri Hemmert, adjunct faculty member in the Radio Department, during the sixth Commencement ceremony May 6 at 4 p.m.