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Nov. 21, 2000


Contact: University Relations (517) 355-2281, or


EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Three individuals who have had an impact on society through innovations in the written and spoken word and philanthropic endeavors will address Michigan State University graduates at fall commencement ceremonies in December.

Commencement speakers Raymond Kurzweil, a leader in artificial intelligence technology; Alejandro Junco de la Vega, a newspaper publisher from Mexico and advocate for freedom of the press; and Jeffrey N. Cole, a retired Detroit area industrialist, will each receive an honorary degree from MSU.

Kurzweil, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Kurzweil Technologies, Inc., Wellesley Hills, Mass., will be the speaker for the advanced degree ceremony set for 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. He will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters from MSU.

He is the developer of the world's first print-to-speech reading machine for the visually impaired. He has founded several companies in optical character recognition, music synthesis, speech recognition and reading technology. President Clinton honored him in 1999 with the National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor in technology.

Junco de la Vega, a fourth-generation newspaper publisher from Monterrey, Mexico, will speak to the undergraduate candidates for degrees at ceremonies set for 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, also at the Breslin Center. He will receive an honorary doctor of humanities from MSU.

As publisher of El Norte, El Sol, and Reforma, he is known for his leadership and introduction of professional journalism techniques and ethics. He worked to provide in-house training for young journalists and to raise the quality of journalism in Mexico. He was among panel members who spoke at MSU last year on the topic of human rights and freedom of the press in Latin America.

The student speaker at this ceremony is Eric Stoddard, a senior from Rochester majoring in political theory and constitutional democracy in the James Madison College. He is the son of Ken and Shirley Stoddard.

Students in the colleges of Arts and Letters, Communications Arts and Sciences, Education, James Madison, Natural Science and Social Science will attend the ceremony.

Cole will be the speaker at the 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 9, ceremony at the Breslin Center. He will receive an honorary doctor of laws from MSU. He established the Jeffrey N. Cole Foundation for the Support of the Honors College at MSU. The foundation's initial projects include renovation of Eustace-Cole Hall and funding for merit scholarships for students invited to attend the Honors College and for international study scholarships. He serves as initial chairperson of the Honors College Director's Council.

Benjamin Kronk of Dearborn, son of Andrew and Ann Kronk, will be the student speaker at the afternoon ceremony. He is a senior majoring in marketing in the Eli Broad College of Business.

Students attending this ceremony will be from the colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources, The Eli Broad College of Business, Engineering and Human Ecology.

Biographies of the speakers follow.


Jeffrey N. Cole, a retired Detroit-area industrialist, discovered challenges and opportunities in the business world, and built his company, Ferrous Processing and Trading Company, into an innovative world-wide leader in the business of reclaiming and recycling a wide variety of valuable industrial metals.

Cole, who served as president and chief executive officer of Ferrous Processing and Trading Company from 1985-1999, also served as vice president of Alport Scrap and Salvage Company from 1979-1984. He was an associate, and then partner, with the law firm of Hyman and Rice in Detroit.

An enthusiastic supporter of MSU, he has established several lasting legacies for MSU students and the community.

He has established a Visiting Lectureship in the Honors College, instituted an endowed discretionary fund to support Honors College activities, funded a Visiting Professorship on an annual basis for the college, and most recently contributed $3 million through the Cole Foundation to Support the Honors College. This most recent gift was used to finance restoration and renovation of Eustace-Cole Hall, home of the Honors College, and to endow various scholarships. Cole also serves as chairperson of the Honors College Director's Advisory Council.

Cole's philosophy is that MSU should serve not only "as a place where lifelong learning might be obtained, but also as a place where lifelong service might be done."

His honors include memberships in Phi Kappa Phi, Safari Club International and the MSU Alumni Association. In 1989 he was named Michigan's "Entrepreneur of the Year." He serves on the MSU Foundation's board of directors.

In 1970 he received his bachelor's degree in social science/pre-law from MSU, and was a member of the Honors College. He received his law degree from Cornell Law School.


Alejandro Junco de la Vega, a fourth-generation newspaper publisher from Monterrey, Mexico, has drawn upon the power of information to raise the quality of journalism in Mexico and the level of democracy in Latin America.

He and publishers of other national newspapers spoke at MSU last year at a landmark international conference to explore the relationship between human rights and freedom of the press in 21st century Latin America.

As publisher of the newspaper El Norte in the early 1970s, he introduced professional journalism techniques and ethics. With the assistance of U.S. journalism teachers, he set up an in-house training program for young news reporters. He led the newspaper's conversion to cold type and offset printing in 1971. Over the next 20 years he built conglomerates that offered independent daily papers in Mexico's three largest cities.

When El Norte condemned government practices in 1974, the president suspended sale of newsprint to the paper. He reduced the number of pages and kept publishing, and eventually the president lifted the suspension but banned the newspaper in Mexico City. He subsequently launched Reforma, which gained influential readership and advertisers in Mexico City. When the government tried to limit distribution of Reforma, he established a system that conveyed it to readers ahead of other papers.

He recently started electronic commerce services including fixed income transactional networks, on-line banking applications, on-line payments, electronic advertisement and on-line shopping.

Under his leadership, the paper has won numerous international awards. In 1991 he was awarded the Maria Moors Cabot Award from Columbia University in New York, the most prestigious recognition given to a Latin American journalist.

He received his bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas in 1969.


It all started with a high school project and subsequent guest appearance on "I've Got a Secret," with host Steve Allen. Raymond Kurzweil played a composition on an old upright piano. His secret? The computer he built composed the piece he played.

His technological contributions to society in sight and sound communications through the years can be summed up in one word - FIRST.

In 1974 he started his first major enterprise, Kurzweil Computer Producers, Inc., to pursue his interest in pattern recognition, attacking problems of teaching a computer to identify printed or typed characters regardless of typestyle and printing quality.

He is the principal developer of the world's first print-to-speech reading machine for the visually impaired. In 1998 his latest reading machine, the Kurzweil 1000, won the first $150,000 SAP/Stevie Wonder Vision Award for Product of the Year.

Other firsts include development of the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first charge coupled device flat-bed scanner and the first full text-to-speech synthesizer, combining these technologies into the first print-to-speech reading machine for the visually impaired. His speech recognition products are used by physicians, emergency room personnel and in the retail markets.

In 1982 Kurzweil founded Kurzweil Music Systems, with singer Stevie Wonder serving as musical adviser. Kurzweil created the first computer-based instrument that could realistically recreate the musical response of the grand piano and other orchestral instruments. Also, in 1982, he started Kurzweil Applied Intelligence, to develop computer-based speech recognition, introducing the first commercially marketed large vocabulary speech recognition system in 1987. In 1996 he started his fourth company, Kurzweil Educational Systems.

One of his latest ventures is FAT KAT (Financial Accelerating Transactions--Kurzweil Adaptive Technologies) which is applying evolutionary algorithms to stock market divisions with the goal of creating an artificially intelligent financial analyst.

A 1970 graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kurzweil received the 1999 National Medal of Technology, the nation's highest honor in technology. Other awards include Engineer of the Year from Design News magazine and the President's Award from the Association on Higher Education and Disability. He has received seven national and international film awards, and his book, The Age of Intelligent Machines, was named Best Computer Science Book of 1990. His current best-selling book is The Age of Spiritual Machines, When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence.