Honorary Alumnus Award (Est. 2019)

The highest honor bestowed upon individuals who are not graduates of University of Illinois by the University of Illinois Alumni Association on behalf of the University of Illinois. The award is presented to an individual or individuals who have shown exemplary dedication and commitment to the mission of the University and the University of Illinois Alumni Association. Recipients adhere to standards of moral and ethical conduct that would cause the University to be honored to present the recipients as role models for students and alumni.

2023 Recipient

  • Chaz Hammel-Smith Ebert

    Chaz Hammel-Smith Ebert is the CEO of Ebert Digital, which publishes the movie review site RogerEbert.com, the legacy of her late husband and business partner, film critic Roger J. Ebert, ’64 MEDIA. Ebert also produces and directs television shows and movies at Ebert Productions and heads the Ebertfest Film Festival, now in its 24th year. Through the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, she provides grants to support projects with strong social justice themes and mentors emerging writers, filmmakers and technologists. 

    Born in Chicago, Ebert earned her bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Dubuque (Iowa) in 1972. She then received her master’s degree in social science at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville before receiving her JD from DePaul University College of Law. Ebert began her career in 1977 as a litigator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She left the EPA to practice commercial law, focusing on mergers and acquisitions and intellectual property. Ebert then began working at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, focusing primarily on race and age-based discrimination. In 1989, she became the vice president of Ebert Company Ltd. In 1992, she married Roger and continued to play an important role in the company.

    Generous donations from the Eberts established the Roger Ebert Program for Film Studies and The Ebert Center at the University. Chaz is a life trustee of the Art Institute and serves on the boards of the Lincoln Presidential Foundation, the Lyric Opera, the LA Opera, the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab and After School Matters. She is directing her first documentary, The Wellness Warrior.

Past Recipients

  • 2022

    • Mike Ross & Taya Luderowski-Ross

  • 2020

    • Lou and Mary Henson

  • 2019

    • Stanley O. Ikenberry