1. UM-Dearborn Commencement Address

    April 29, 2018

    (as prepared for delivery)

    I want to offer my deepest congratulations to the University of Michigan – Dearborn’s Class of 2018! It is such an honor to be here, in a full Crisler Center, with your family, friends, professors and mentors, to celebrate this outstanding day.

    Well done, Graduates!

    I know that many of you began your university studies as first-year students in the Fall of 2014. That was just a few weeks after I started my job here at Michigan.

    Since then, I have continually been impressed by your accomplishments – as students, as engaged members of your community, and as emerging leaders in our society.

    In that light, I would like us spend my time with you today considering the power and reach
    of a U-M Dearborn Education, and how it aligns with the needs of our cities and towns here in Southeast Michigan and beyond.

    I know that for many of you, graduating from college was not a given. You’ve had to fight like hell to get here.

    If you are the first member of your family to earn a college degree, or to pursue higher education, will you please stand?

    Now, if you worked one or more jobs while taking classes, will you please stand?

    If you conducted research, volunteered in the community, or interacted as part of your studies with any local businesses or organizations, will you please stand?

    If you are a proud U-M Dearborn graduate, please go ahead and stand, as well!

    Chancellor Little, I am pleased to present U-M Dearborn’s class of 2018 whose accomplishments and success give proof to the transformative nature of higher education.

    They also represent the excellence and the values you have stood for over the last 18 years and UM-Dearborn’s commitment to community impact, to access and to academic achievement for all. I share your great pride in this outstanding campus.

    Let’s all give our graduates a big hand.

    Congratulations to you all, and thank you for choosing this amazing university!

    I know this is a very special moment for Chancellor Little, as it’s his final commencement before he retires from his current post and returns to the faculty.

    Graduates, we can all be proud of what this university, what YOUR university, has become. It is an engine of opportunity for talented and hard-working students from all around our state and beyond.

    Since Chancellor Little began, the campus’s enrollment has increased by more than 12 percent, and the number of students of color has risen 71.5 percent. Today’s U-M Dearborn students can live on campus, and can now pursue 17 new international programs and 7 new doctoral programs. And they learn at a university that has been honored with a Carnegie Classification as an outstanding community engaged institution.

    During his inauguration speech in 2000, the Chancellor also expressed his ambition for what you could accomplish together on your campus. “Let it be a place dedicated to the deep values of learning and maturation that a university represents,” he said. “Let it be a place that transforms our students, that challenges them intellectually, but also challenges them morally and socially; that helps them work through their own sense of purpose and connection to their communities.”

    It’s clear that U-M Dearborn has become all of that, and more.

    I saw this first-hand at brunch this morning with the 2018 recipients of the Chancellor’s Medallions, who are also onstage with us here. I have learned of your academic achievements each year at our Honors Convocation. And from my first visit to the Dearborn campus nearly four years ago, I have observed that societal change through quality education and engaged research is a hallmark of U-M Dearborn.

    To me, the most exciting aspect of U-M Dearborn is your potential as graduates of this great institution. I want to explore that potential for the next few minutes.

    You have earned your degrees at an urban, regionally focused university, with deep ties to the community and an outstanding faculty deeply committed to education and mentoring.

    These qualities combine to produce academic programs that prepare students to lead the way in addressing our greatest challenges. And because 80 percent of you will stay and work in the region, it will be this metropolitan area that is the greatest beneficiary of your talents.

    City leaders across our nation have recognized the importance of the local and regional impact
    you are poised to deliver – and they note that such impact can resound nationally and globally.

    The U.S. Conference of Mayors says that “while Americans look to Washington and see chaos and dysfunction … urban, suburban, and rural communities are thriving.”

    Mayors argue that cities and towns are crucial to our ability to compete in the global economy and are exemplars of democracy.

    The Conference’s “Leadership for America” agenda puts forth a set of guiding principles and priorities that align with the strengths of your campus. As the agenda states, “American cities and their metropolitan regions remain the greatest laboratories for democracy and policy in the world.” And “everyone does better when we honor our diversity and unite to address our biggest challenges.”

    The mayors also note that cities’ close connections to the people they serve provides an enormous opportunity for positive impact – and economic growth.

    In essence, they are making the case that college graduates with your talents, experience
    and education are precisely what our state and nation need. In other words, Class of 2018, you are in demand.

    This is the power of the U-M Dearborn degrees you have earned.

    You take with you skills and knowledge to enhance prosperity and our democratic way of life. And you’ve already practiced and applied your education in a complex metropolitan setting.

    Recent achievements from your university illustrate this point.

    For instance, a research team that includes Professors Karen Thomas-Brown and Jacob Napieralski and Lecturer Sharon Werner has worked to address teacher shortages in Detroit by helping educators like paraprofessionals and long-term substitute teachers to earn teacher certifications.

    And Professor Yi-Su Chen’s supply chain logistics students analyzed 15,000 911 calls from several years to help the Dearborn Fire Department choose the best location for a new station. Applying knowledge helps reinforce learning, and in this case also serves a more public good.

    These examples demonstrate why U-M Dearborn is a model for engaging with a metropolitan area – and why you, as graduates, have such incredible potential.

    You embody the talent and work ethic that are so essential to our future. You’ve worked side-by-side with people and organizations in the community to enhance local well-being and opportunity in cities, schools and businesses.

    You’ve conducted research that is being applied for the benefit of society, in the greatest traditions of the University of Michigan. And you’ve learned to participate and lead diverse teams to attack problems and create innovative solutions.

    I believe this last point is another major strength of your U-M Dearborn experience and speaks to your great potential. Problems do not get solved in isolation.

    I know that many of you took part in Poverty Simulations organized on your campus. In fact, based on your success, our Poverty Solutions team worked with your community bring a similar activity here to the Ann Arbor campus.

    The simulations sparked discussions among students about issues that are linked to poverty, including health care, education, nutrition and transportation. One goal of the simulations was to enable students to learn about the many different aspects of a complex problem, to inform stronger research and policies in the future.

    As Hassan Jaber, CEO of the ACCESS nonprofit organization said, “Conversations like this are crucial now for us to listen to each other and start to have a consensus about what type of future we want to build.”

    All of these examples I’ve discussed are among many from your campus that deserve recognition at the highest levels.

    We need to tell more of these stories to ensure that the public recognizes your value as scholars and leaders. I urge you to become champions for urban, engaged education.

    Class of 2018, it is to your credit and to society’s benefit that you have embraced the challenge of using your talents to create better communities for us all.

    I agree with Chancellor Little, with the mayors of our great nation, and with the many civic leaders who have devoted their careers to creating positive Metropolitan Impact through opportunity and academic excellence.

    The inspiration for solutions to the biggest global challenges will come from places like Dearborn — and from graduates like you.

    Our world needs smart, high-achieving, hard-working, diverse and well-prepared college graduates more than ever. Your U-M Dearborn education is just the beginning.

    You have at least as great a potential to make an impact in your communities and beyond as any graduate from any campus in our nation.

    While you are the leaders and best of today, you are also the vanguard of a better tomorrow. Now, you have the opportunity to use your knowledge and experience to lead us to a brighter future.

    As Michigan graduate Gerald Ford said during his presidency: “Our goal is to improve the quality of life in America’s cities. The monuments we hope to raise are monuments not of stone and steel, but of the human spirit. We can make America’s cities the thriving, forward-looking centers of commerce and culture that they ought to be.”

    Class of 2018, before me today, I see the latest graduates who are ready to deliver on Ford’s appeal. I see the hope, the human spirit, and the forward-looking leaders and best. I am so very proud of you.

    Graduates, I wish you and your families the very best, and my deepest congratulations, as you Go Discover. Go Achieve. Go Serve. And Go Blue!