The University of Michigan Graduate Exercises
April 29, 2005
President Mary Sue Coleman
I can’t tell you how magnificent it is to stand before this Class of 2005.
I am in the presence of astonishing women and men, and it is one of the most rewarding experiences of being president of this great university.
I join Dean Kunkel, Dr. Berent, and Provost Courant in offering my warmest congratulations to you upon receiving your graduate degrees, and to the families and friends who have supported you through years of advanced study at Michigan.
I’d like to ask the graduates to rise and look over your shoulders at the people who have watched over you all these years. As you stand, please give a round of applause to those who have always stood with you.
Graduates, I know it’s been hard work. The pride, the satisfaction and, yes, the relief you feel is richly deserved.
You thought this day was never going to arrive, and at the same time, it probably feels like you just began your graduate work.
Of course, you leave here a very different person than the new graduate student you were not so long ago. You have acquired not only your degree, but an entire new set of skills to complement your scholarly talents.
If you are preparing for upcoming job interviews or are still polishing your resumes, I hope you take full stock of your attributes:
You are a financial analyst. You are an expert on cheap meals, inexpensive housing, and stretching a grant.
You are a marketing manager. Selling yourself and packaging your ideas have been paramount.
You are a mental health counselor, providing insight and consolation to friends wrestling with the eternal dilemmas of a graduate student: Why am I doing this? Am I crazy? Will I ever finish?
You are a competitor, fighting for fellowships, lab space, and post-docs. And, like any contender, you have tasted both success and failure.
You are a monk, a cleric, a holy man or a holy woman. You have known depths of solitude, isolation, and self-reflection unlike anything you may ever again experience.
And you are a performer, staring down stage fright and drawing upon your strongest dramatic talents in defending your thesis or dissertation.
Today, finally, is your well-earned curtain call. And you deserve to take a bow, because you are the realization of a dream set out by this University more than 150 years ago.
In 1851, a scholar named Henry Philip Tappan produced a book that would become the blueprint for graduate education at Michigan. He was a professor in New York City, and he was still a year away from becoming this University’s first president.
But the ideas he put forth in his writing came with him to Ann Arbor, and would forever shape the University of Michigan.
Henry Tappan believed America should be bolder with its higher education. He didn’t want four-year colleges simply to produce graduates to add to the work force. That approach, he said, produced ordinary people.
Rather, he wanted institutions of higher learning that would inspire students to pursue the life of the mind, so that those students, in turn, would improve and invigorate the world around them.
Henry Tappan wanted a university where students were given the independence to pursue their studies. He believed a university should be a repository for all knowledge, with museums and libraries and laboratories.
He saw the University of Michigan as a place of “high promise and expectation.”
He said: “This conception of education is not that of merely teaching men a trade, an art, or a profession; but that of quickening and informing souls with truths and knowledges and giving them the power of using all their faculties aright in whatever direction they choose to exert them.”
For promoting this grand vision, President Tappan was castigated by Michigan newspapers. They didn’t like that he was from New York. They didn’t like his fancy ideas. And they didn’t want tax dollars being used for such folly.
He was labeled, “Vain. Silly. Extravagant. A dreaming theorizer. An aping aristocrat.” And that was just one sentence.
Another journalist said the young University of Michigan was doing just fine in its current state, thank you very much. “If Mr. Tappan is not satisfied with that, the sooner he leaves ‘these diggins,’ the better.”
And yet another account characterized Dr. Tappan as, I’m afraid to say, “a thorough and unmitigated ass.”
It’s never easy being president.
You, the holders of master’s and doctoral degrees, are what Henry Philip Tappan wanted to see, and what caused such apoplexy among the Fourth Estate. You are, to paraphrase that boorish editor, a thorough and unmitigated success.
Listen again to President Tappan: Graduates of this great academic enterprise shall apply their intellect “in whatever direction they choose.”
And, oh, the directions you are choosing. With your talents and your creativity, you are entering all arenas of our changing world with your critical thinking, your research prowess, and your passion for leadership. You are going to enhance our communities, our universities, our corporations, and our public institutions.
If you are Aaron Skrocki, you are taking your master’s degree in public policy and moving to Honduras to join Catholic Relief Services.
As a graduate student, Aaron has gone from his hometown of Paw Paw, Michigan, to Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Cuba. He has traveled down ruts that serve as roads, has slept for weeks in a tent, and has loved every minute of it.
Aaron came to the Ford School to fine-tune his quantitative skills, so he could understand better the policy implications of humanitarian relief. He leaves knowing he wants to devote his career to working in developing countries, being “on the ground,” as he says, and seeing firsthand how humanitarianism changes people’s lives.
If you are Jennifer Fischer, you are moving just down the road to metropolitan Detroit and a career in information technology.
At the School of Information, Jen began her master’s studies interested in the ways people interact with computers. But she wanted to do more and tailored her own academic program, exploring the policies and theories behind the use of information in the workplace.
She is taking that knowledge to a position as an analyst with the global consulting firm, Accenture. From Southfield, she will work with Fortune 500 companies, both in Michigan and around the country, to help improve their performance and increase their efficiency using technology.
A native of Michigan, Jen grew up in Texas. It took awhile to get back here, but she says she’s glad to be staying.
And if you are Wizdom Powell, you are eager to continue your research in academia, exploring how the attitudes and beliefs of African-American men affect their health and wellbeing.
With her doctorate in clinical psychology, Wizdom becomes one of only 18 PhDs in this country to be named a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar, a prestigious post-doctoral program that will take her to the University of California at both Berkeley and San Francisco. From there, it’s on to a tenure-track position. Research, she says, has become the core of her professional life.
As one of the few women who are researching men’s health, Wizdom knows what it is to break new ground. She’s already been a pioneer on a more personal level, as the first member of her Virginia family to earn a college degree.
This great hall is filled with amazing, inspiring graduatespeople like Aaron Skrocki, Jen Fischer and Wizdom Powellwho will announce their presence, loudly, to the world.
Before you go, you must first cross this stage. You will do so wearing gowns and hoods whose colors represent the many schools and colleges of our University. This rainbow of Michigan academia is emblematic of the diversity of careers you will follow, the multitude of successes you will find, and the wealth of lives you will enhance.
Take from here the legacy of Henry Tappan, and the rich academic heritage that is the University of Michigan. Let them be your compass as you move forward and change the world. We need the thoughtfulness and ingenuity you have honed here at Michigan.
And every now and then, steer back to Ann Arbor. Your success inspires us to continue that grand dream of 150 years ago.
Good luck, and once again, congratulations upon your remarkable achievements!