University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

Sarine Schmidt

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May 22, 2008 
Kottke, Ziemer receive honorary degrees

Leo Kottke
 (L-R) Peck School of the Arts Interim Dean Scott Emmons, Leo Kottke, John Stropes, Douglas Shane. Shane, a friend of Kottke’s, is Vice President/Business Development, Director of Flight Operations and Test Pilot for Scaled Composites, the aerospace company building a fleet of commercial sub-orbital spaceships and launch aircraft focusing on space tourism.

Legendary fingerstyle guitarist Leo Kottke and Harley-Davidson CEO James L. Ziemer received honorary degrees at UWM’s Spring Commencement ceremonies May 18 at the U.S. Cellular Arena. Kottke was honored at the 9 a.m. Black Ceremony; Ziemer received his honorary degree at the 1:30 p.m. Gold Ceremony. Both recipients gave a commencement address.

Here are profiles of the recipients.

Honorary Doctor of Music Performance
Leo Kottke
Escorted by Interim Dean Scott Emmons,
Peck School of the Arts

Leo Kottke has had a long-standing and exceptional career in the music industry. Regarded as an extraordinary musician who helped redefine the potential of guitar music, this musical icon has influenced over the last 38 years the performance style known as fingerstyle guitar. He is said to be the one man who has forged a path that has forever changed the way we hear and think about the acoustic guitar.

His monumental role in redefining how the world thinks about acoustic guitar is more than imagination and invention, however. He has worked for years with other artists and in a variety of teaching venues to help musicians old and new discover not just his music but how to think differently about what is possible in music. A cursory search of the Web and literature will help anyone discover volumes of musical work that are “inspired or based on Leo Kottke’s work.”

His performing and compositional influence has found its way into two of UWM’s unique degree programs, Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Music in Fingerstyle Guitar Performance. UWM is the only university in the world that offers these degrees, and Kottke is the foremost living exponent of this genre of music.

His relationship to the university dates back to 1985 when he was featured in the first American Fingerstyle Guitar Festival, which was held at UWM. After the reconstitution of the guitar program at UWM, Kottke has been an advocate of the program when speaking to guitar students and teachers throughout the world.

Kottke is a musical role model for students. His personal integrity, humor, self-effacing style and uncommon musical talent combine to provide many lessons for aspiring music students.

Kottke also has given back to society in ways other than sharing his extraordinary musical gift. His willingness to perform at charity and humanitarian events, especially in small towns and health centers that are off the beaten celebrity path, is a testament to his citizenship and his heart.

Kottke’s musical abilities, his status in the musical world, his contributions to the growth of the musical genre both academically and professionally, and his humanitarian expressions made him an exceptional candidate for the honorary degree.

Honorary Doctor of Commercial Science

James L. Ziemer
Escorted by: Dean V. Kanti Prasad, Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business
James L. Ziemer

James L. Ziemer

James L. Ziemer, a UWM graduate, is the CEO of Harley-Davidson Corporation, a position he has held since 2005. Ziemer’s career with Harley began in 1969 and through hard work, commitment and his UWM education, he rose to the top position at what has become an internationally known company.

Ziemer’s leadership, experience and stature led him to be named by President Bush to the Advisory Council for Trade Policy and Negotiations. He also serves as a board member of Textron Inc. His notable community ties and contributions include the position of vice chair of Junior Achievement, membership on the campaign cabinet of the United Way (which he will co-chair next year) and a past committee chair post with the Next Door Foundation.

He is also the vice president of the Harley Davidson Foundation, which supports communities in which it has facilities, with an emphasis on education, community revitalization, arts and culture, health and the environment.

Ziemer and Harley-Davidson have a long-standing commitment to UWM. Ziemer has served as co-chair of the Campaign for UWM, which has now exceeded its original campaign goal of $100 million, and on the Lubar School of Business Advisory Council. His commitment to the goals and objectives of higher education can be seen in his own efforts and through the Harley-Davidson Foundation’s support of UWM’s research initiatives and student scholarships, which have benefited UWM’s School of Education, the Lubar School of Business and the UWM Research Foundation.

As UWM’s presence in the community grows, the commitment and altruism of individuals such as Ziemer will become more critical and beneficial to the students and ultimately the citizens of Wisconsin. He is a role model for UWM students and provides an excellent example of what our graduates can achieve through the combination of a drive to learn and desire to achieve.

Read the commencement addresses (PDF)