U gives Yanni honorary doctorate

Amy Horst

When University Alumni Association officials thought about who they wanted to speak at their annual celebration and 100th anniversary gala, they only thought of one person.

Yanni.

The well-known composer, who graduated from the University in 1976 with a psychology degree, spoke Thursday night at the association’s celebration and received an honorary doctoral degree in humane letters.

More than 30 years ago, Yanni Chryssomalis flew into the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Nov. 18, 1972, checked into Territorial Hall and registered for psychology classes, he said.

While at the University, he pursued his love of music while studying for his psychology degree.

“I would sneak into the music department and go in empty practice rooms,” he said. “I played there until somebody kicked me out.”

He did, however, benefit from studying psychology. He said he learned to speak English in his introductory psychology class.

He also took a job at the Campus Club until deciding to apply for financial aid.

“For all I know, a few of you were eating dinner at the club while I was washing dishes,” he said.

After the ceremony, Yanni said speaking in front of an audience rather than performing was “nerve-racking,” but he was happy to be back at the University to receive the degree.

“I’m deeply honored that they would think of me like that,” he said.

He said he will spend Friday with his brother, who lives in the Twin Cities and also attended the University, and will visit old friends from his college days.

Alumni Association Executive Director Margaret Carlson said she was extremely pleased to have Yanni speak at the celebration.

“I had, personally, for a long time wanted Yanni to come back to speak at our annual meeting,” she said. “Through the years we’ve had people like Walter Cronkite and Ted Koppel, but they’ve not been alums.”

An anniversary planning committee decided to try to get Yanni to speak at the gala, and Carlson said it was a complicated process.

“It is much more difficult than anybody could imagine to make contact with a celebrity like Yanni,” Carlson said.

She and University President Bob Bruininks officially requested Yanni’s presence at the gala in a conference call and Carlson said she was “elated” when she found out he would come.

The evening’s theme was “Changing the World One Graduate at a Time,” and Carlson said Yanni encapsulates that perfectly.

“When we started to think about somebody who really symbolized how the University of Minnesota shaped their life and transformed their life and they went on to change the world,” she said. “Yanni seemed to be the person.”