J.K. Simmons - Oscars acceptance speech

Simmons

Associated Press

Oscar winner and University of Montana alum J.K. Simmons will give the 2016 commencement address in Missoula.

On graduation day, May 14, UM will honor both Simmons and former U.S. Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas with honorary doctorates, according to a news release from University Relations.

"It's our honor to reward two such remarkable individuals," UM President Royce Engstrom said in a statement. "Both have risen to rarified heights in their respective careers, and both have contributed a great deal to the University of Montana."

The past three years, UM has brought a high-profile Democrat to give its commencement address. Ambassador and former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus spoke last year; Gov. Steve Bullock gave the address in 2014; and Jim Messina, architect of President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, spoke in 2013.

"If you look at the past decade of our commencement speakers, you will see an array of people who have achieved great success in life and in their careers," Peggy Kuhr, vice president of integrated communications at UM, wrote in an email (see box for list from UM).

"Some are UM alumni and some are not. Their achievements are in the worlds of business, politics, education, government service and journalism. With J.K. Simmons as UM's commencement speaker this May, our graduating students and their families will hear from someone who has much to share about the importance of the arts, of family and of giving back to your community."

In 2015, Simmons won an Oscar for best supporting actor and a Golden Globe Award for his role in "Whiplash." He will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

"The family of Jonathan Kimble (J.K.) Simmons has many ties to Missoula," the news release stated. "His father, Don, was a UM music professor and music department chair for years, and his mother, Pat, was active with many community organizations."

Thomas, who had a career as a wildlife research biologist, will receive an honorary doctorate of science.

According to the news release, K. Norman Johnson, a university distinguished professor at Oregon State University, wrote the following in Ward's nomination letter: "Rarely has a scientist risen to such high levels of policymaking. Rarely has a scientist been so completely trusted by a president."

President Bill Clinton named Ward chief of the Forest Service in 1993.

"Thomas went to serve as the endowed Boone and Crocket Professor of Wildlife Conservation at UM from 1996 to 2005," the news release stated. "He mentored graduate students and mesmerized students in his undergraduate classes with the real story of how conservation happened in North America from the perspective of someone who was there for many of the issues of the last half of the 20th century."

In his career, Thomas produced some 600 publications, according to UM. He is retired and writing books from his home in Florence.

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Higher Education Reporter

Reporter for the Missoulian