Good evening to you, the great Class of 2020. It is also a pleasure to be here with so many of your friends and families. Welcome, everyone, to the University of Michigan.
The mission statement of this great public university – now your university – charges us with “developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.”
For you, the distinguished members of the Class of 2020, the present and the future are aligned like never before. You have arrived at U-M at a very important moment.
This is your first year in college, a time to explore, to learn, to grow – to challenge the present. Your first year is also a major point in our nation’s four-year election cycle, as we will have the opportunity to select the 45th president of the United States and help determine our collective future. And, as Provost Pollack said, your first year is the beginning of our 200th here at the University of Michigan.
Class of 2020, your timing is impeccable.
As you embark on your future as our newest class of students, you also have an unprecedented opportunity to enrich our future. And that opportunity begins today.
At U-M, we have built a learning community that is unparalleled in its breadth, its depth, and its promise. We have assembled outstanding professors, built the best academic programs, and of course, admitted brilliant students. Our classrooms, labs and libraries are stellar places to learn, but it does not end there.
Learning takes place in the dorms and eateries, in the myriad of student clubs and activities we have, on the playing fields, in the Big House, and even as you socialize.
Just like you, your classmates are really smart, and they bring different ideas and varied life experiences with them to Ann Arbor. You learn by sharing ideas, and discussing how you are thinking about all kinds of things with your classmates. The more you engage with a broad array of your classmates, the more you learn.
And I’d bet many of your classmates like to argue – a trait that can be especially valuable during an election year.
I’ve seen this myself in my fireside chats. Fireside chats are conversations I host each month in the Michigan Union with groups of students who can ask me any question they’d like and offer their own ideas and opinions.
I’ve learned that Michigan students never hesitate to disagree with me. This is great!
Spirited debate of important issues is healthy for our democracy and essential for learning.
This is especially true of those with differing ideologies.
Michigan is an ideal environment to engage and learn across difference. In fact, that is one of the key skills we expect you to develop while you’re here.
Dr. Ishop, Provost Pollack, and all of us here believe strongly in your ability to think creatively, and to evaluate and analyze the complex problems and proposals being debated by our nation.
After all, you did not come to Michigan to limit what you understand about the world. You came here to study. You came here to solve problems. You came here to lead. You came here to learn the skills of citizenship – and apply them in service of our society.
Election day is two months from now, on Tuesday, November 8th. Along with the next President of the United States, the choices we make will include Congressional, state and local representatives, and in many places, we’ll be asked to vote on ballot issues.
For most of you, it will be your first opportunity to participate in a presidential election.
But recent history suggests that the age group that most of you represent will be vastly underrepresented at the polls.
The Pew Research Center reported that in 2012, nationwide voter turnout for 18- to 24-year olds was just over 41 percent. That was down more than 7 percentage points from 2008.
And it was the lowest turnout amongst all age groups. The report noted that the data were counter to the belief that a “youth movement” was taking hold in our electorate.
I hope you and your peers will reverse that trend this time.
You chose to begin your educational journey at a public university – and one of U-M’s greatest hallmarks is educating students who make a difference in the world as engaged citizens.
Earlier this year, the Michigan Daily pointed out an opportunity for November. A story by LS&A student Lydia Murray noted the record turnout in this year’s Michigan primary, and the headline read: “Students could turn the tide with Michigan as a swing state.”
But to turn that tide, as the saying goes, you have to show up. You have to get registered, and you have to vote.
This fall, you can ensure that your generation is not only the best represented in the 2016 election, but also the most informed.
Our Ford School of Public Policy is planning events before and after the election to examine important issues and analyze the results.
I hope you will focus on the issues you care about the most, and then learn about the candidates’ positions. You get to decide who exhibits the good judgment and appropriate values to deal with the unexpected, yet inevitable, challenges that lie ahead.
Among many other challenges, the results of this election may affect federal policies for student loans, levels of research funding, college affordabilityand access to higher education.
In fact, the Association of American Universities has reached out to both major presidential candidates, calling for greater support for higher education and college students. Their recommendations include restoration of the year-round Pell Grant for low-income students, reforming loans to help graduate students, and modest and sustained growth in research funding.
Forty years ago, I voted in my very first presidential election. The year was 1976, and I was in my second year in college. It was Jimmy Carter vs. incumbent U.S. President and Michigan alumnus Gerald Ford.
I had no idea at the time that four decades later, I would be speaking at events at the Ford Library or meeting students who study here at the Ford School of Public Policy.
In 1976, I was in the same position that many of you are in now, just beginning my academic journey, and starting to separate from my parents and develop my own ideas. That November, I walked into a voting booth in my hometown and cast my first presidential vote.
I haven’t missed a presidential election since.
Compared to how it’s done today, my first election was old school. I actually had to pull a mechanical lever to close the curtain of the voting booth and activate the voting machine.
And by the way, I arranged my trip home from Princeton to vote so I wouldn’t have to miss class.
This year’s election is November 8th.If you’re not yet registered, I urge you to do so.
For Michigan residents, you have to be registered by October 11 to vote in the election, and if you want to vote with an absentee ballot, you’ll need to request that in advance.
I will be sending registration information out via email early this semester, and the Michigan Secretary of State is scheduled to be on campus on October 11 to register voters, as well.
Many of you hail from other states, and will have different deadlines. But please don’t wait until the last minute.
Regardless of your political affiliation or ideology, you each have the right and the opportunity to make your voice heard.
Even if you’re not an U.S. citizen, you can become engaged and help your peers better understand the issues.
I expect that the Diag will be a vibrant place as we approach November 8th.
I’m looking forward to vigorous, peaceful and civil debates during this pivotal moment in our history.
Hearing ideas we disagree with challenges our way of thinking. It helps us sharpen our own thinking and it helps us grow.
Engaging across intellectual differences teaches us how to work through problems in groups and how to express ourselves in ways that can bring about positive change.
I will further share my thoughts on the issues of respect and intellectual disagreement in the days ahead. At the same time, I hope that we can all remember that there is one big unifying “M” in the middle of that Diag, that the Diag has no walls to divide us, but it does have many paths that bring us together.
For generations, the University of Michigan Diag has served as a forum for competing ideas and a crossroads for individuals who aspire to make a difference in the world and to make our society better.
Throughout our nearly 200-year history, leaders and best who crossed the Diag stepped out onto the world stage. They became astronauts, Oscar winners, CEOs, scientists and teachers. They healed and vaccinated billions, entertained and enlightened millions, inspired countless individuals, and won three Heisman trophies.
This is just part of the outstanding legacy we will honor during our Bicentennial Celebration next year.
If you think about it, the impact of the University of Michigan’s two centuries of excellence extends to most every person in the world.
Every child who’s received a polio vaccine. Every graphic artist or student who’s used Photoshop. Every employer who’s made an investment based on the consumer confidence index developed here. Everyone who saw the world differently, after seeing an Arthur Miller play.
Our valued traditions and our academic excellence are measured in centuries. A major focus of the Bicentennial will be how we can ensure our excellence continues into the future.
Class of 2020, I very much look forward to challenging the present and enriching the future with you.
What a great moment to be a part of the University of Michigan community. Thank you for bringing your talents, energy, and ambition to Ann Arbor.
Please remember — decisions are made by those who show up! Get out to vote in November.
Welcome to the University of Michigan, have a great semester, and Go Blue!!!