R.E.M. founding member gives surprise performance at Macon commencement

R.E.M. founding member Mike Mills and violinist Robert McDuffie perform "Losing My Religion" at Mercer's Macon commencement ceremony on May 16.

R.E.M. founding member Mike Mills never finished college. At Mercer University‘s commencement in Macon, he acknowledged the nearly 800 graduates who were on the verge of achieving that feat.

“You’re about to accomplish something I never did, which is to graduate from college,” Mills said on May 16. “So, as you continue your journey, I wish you good luck and Godspeed.”

With an electric guitar strapped around his shoulder, he strummed a few test notes and put his mouth close to the mic, belting out the first words to R.E.M.’s hit song, “Losing My Religion.” Mills’ friend and renowned violinist Robert McDuffie, founder of Mercer’s Robert McDuffie Center for Strings in the Townsend School of Music, accompanied him on the piece.

Following the performance, President William D. Underwood presented Mills with an honorary Doctor of Humanities.

“As many of you know, this region has a great history of producing great musical geniuses, from Little Richard to Otis Redding to the Allman Brothers Band to Chuck Leavell and Robert McDuffie,” Underwood said. “As great as these musical geniuses have been, none of them had more impact with the genius of their work than Mike Mills.”

Mills moved to Macon shortly after his birth in Orange County, California. He attended the same high school as drummer Bill Berry, and together they left to attend the University of Georgia. There, they teamed up with guitarist Peter Buck and singer Michael Stipe to form the band that would become R.E.M.

R.E.M. released several critically acclaimed albums, finding commercial success with the 1991 release of its album, “Out of Time,” which included “Losing My Religion.” After 31 years and over 80 million records sold, R.E.M. disbanded in 2011.

Mills, a multi-instrumentalist, in March performed his composition, “Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra,” as part of “A Night of Georgia Music” at The Grand Opera House. The concert also featured McDuffie, Rolling Stones keyboardist and former Allman Brothers Band member Chuck Leavell, and students from the McDuffie Center.

The concert was recorded for television and will premiere on Georgia Public Broadcasting at 7 p.m. on July 4. It will also be distributed to other public television stations across the country later this year.

Mercer President William D. Underwood presented R.E.M. founding member Mike Mills with an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree at the University’s Macon commencement on May 16.


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Jennifer Falk is director of digital communications at Mercer. She edits and writes feature stories for The Den and examines web data and analytics to drive content decisions. She also creates and supervises the creation of content for primary University web pages and e-newsletters.