The University of Michigan Spring Commencement
April 26, 2003
President Mary Sue Coleman
“Billions and Billions of Bytes”
Congratulations to all who are receiving degrees, and to those who supported today’s graduates through their years of academic work.
The completion of these degrees has been a team effort of the students, faculty members, family, and friends.
In fact, let’s take a moment to acknowledge these thousands of graduates.
They have devoted years of work to earn these degrees.
They have had to endure long nights of studying, long readings for their courses, and long lines for our great residence hall food.
But today, your long wait is over!
Let me ask all the families, friends, and faculty members to join us in applauding the newest crop of Leaders and Best, the Class of 2003!
All these proud graduates would not be here today without the support of families, friends, and everyone who has loved and encouraged you for decades. They got you through high school, they happily made sacrifices to send you to college, and they are thrilled to see you graduate today.
I would like to ask today's graduates to take a minute to thank their loved ones by applauding their families and friends for all their years of support.
Recently, I asked students what they might like to hear as a Commencement speech from me. It was illuminating to get such a consensus from students.
What did they want? “Something inspirational,” but also—“short!” So, I will do my best!
This is a day to celebrate, and also to reflect on how far you have come in the past few years. You have traveled on a journey that cannot be measured in miles, and you have accumulated wisdom that cannot be measured in pounds.
In your journey here, you have acquired critical skills that will allow you to become the leaders of our country and world.
One hundred years ago, Mark Twain made a remark that is more true today than he ever could have imagined.
“A lie can travel halfway around the world
while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
With every new class of graduates, the amount of information available increases dramatically.
Fortunately, we have a School of Information at the University of Michigan, and I was able to consult its dean, John King, about the amount of new information with which you must contend.
He tells me that every year, one or two exabytes of new information are produced.
I have to admit that I did not know what an exabyte is—although I am sure that some of our graduates would be happy to give me a definition.
But just in trying to learn about an exabyte, I ran into the very problem that Dean King was trying to illustrate.
Where do all of you go when you need information, a quick byte of information? Like most of you, I turned to Google.
And, for the term “exabyte,” I got 225,000 hits!
So, clearly, before you get your degrees, all of you should learn what an exabyte is.
I did manage to discover that an exabyte is a billion gigabytes. Even a gigabyte is an enormous amount of information—over one billion bytes—so it is impossible to comprehend the amount of new information that has become available in this past year: a billion, billion bytes.
If we try to reduce it to human terms, that would mean that 220,000 gigabytes of information will be created during this ceremony.
I don't want to make you nervous, but that means you are all falling behind in the information revolution while we sit here.
But, how much of this endless information do you really need to know? How much of this new “information” is true, or valuable, and how much is useless? And how do you tell the difference?
You are all savvy enough to know that a great deal of information that is available on the Web is not true.
Today, Mark Twain would have to update his quotation to say:
“A billion lies can travel to Pluto and back,
while Truth is putting on its Nikes.”
This information revolution provides you with access to galaxies of material—and what we have done at the University of Michigan is to provide you with the critical tools that will allow you to find true gold among all the fool's gold of the Internet.
Once upon a time, a college education presented more carefully controlled bodies of information.
Once upon a time, television news was thoroughly packaged, and presented only two or three times a day.
Once upon a time, our mail arrived only in mailboxes, and the difference between personal letters and "junk mail" was immediately apparent.
In fairy tales, “once upon a time” means a far distant past.
Today, “once upon a time” means “twenty years ago.”
Sometimes, it means “last week.”
Now, you have endless information available on the Internet; you have several news outlets providing 24-hour coverage; and you have e-mail inboxes that cleverly disguise spam as personal mail.
Every day, every hour, you will need critical skills you have acquired here to separate the informational wheat from the deceitful chaff.
You have a deep responsibility to yourselves and to society to use your well-developed critical skills to allow this information to provide you with intellectual freedom, rather than a world of deceit.
Jesse Gray reminded us, in his remarks earlier, that we are all connected because of our shared experiences at Michigan.
We have shared national trauma, we have shared personal triumphs. I know that Jesse, and all of you, will find ways to re-connect in person and online in the decades to come.
Our Ethernet connections are providing us with an entirely new type of community, and you will find new ways to remain close to one another.
As of today, you will take your place with the great Michigan alumni/ae who are leading the way into the future.
You are the Leaders, and Best, and as Jesse said—you are the Victors!
Congratulations! And GO BLUE!!!!