The University of Michigan Spring Commencement
April 30, 2005
President Mary Sue Coleman
Good morningand congratulations to the University of Michigan Class of 2005!
You did it!
I want to welcome the families who are with us on this most important of days. For you, today marks the proud culmination of years of support and sacrifice, of love and caring. Your hair is a little grayer, your wallet a little lighter. But, hopefully, your spare bedroom will remain just that soon after today’s ceremonies.
I know that the pride we as faculty and administrators have in the accomplishments of your sons and daughters is magnified onehundredfold by your feelings todayand rightly so. Your children are amazing. Thank you for sharing them with us, and in doing so, enriching our University.
Graduates, undoubtedly there were times you felt alone in your college career, but you always had the support of your family and friends. Please stand and join me in giving them the ovation they deserve.
It’s important that we give credit to your loved ones for the honors you are receiving today. After all, your parents were your first teachers. Your earliest lessons came from them, and most often their instructions were intended to protect you: Wear your seatbelt. Eat your vegetables. Don’t play with matches.
Now, as you prepare to leave this point of your formal education, I have the privilege of passing on one final lesson, and it will contradict what your parents taught you.
I want you to run through the rain. I want you to play in the street. I want you to talk to strangers. I want you to be fearless.
You are members of a unique graduating class. You came to the University in the fall of 2001, only to have the nightmare of September 11 erupt in your second week of classes. It was a rude, frightening initiation into adulthood. That sobering experience earned you the distinction of being what Newsweek magazine called “Generation Nine-Eleven.”
It meant coming of age in an era of suspicion and anger. As a nation, we developed a new lexicon rooted in anxiety: Homeland security. Threat levels. War on terror. And persons of interest.
Yet while 9/11 events may shape you, they should not define you.
Rather, be fearless.
Be fearless, and do the right thing.
We live in an era of bad behavior, whether it be the Enrons of the corporate world, steroids in sports, or the appalling conduct at Abu Ghraib Prison.
At Michigan, you worked and studied alongside the finest professors and scientists in the worldscholars committed to seeking new knowledge, new cures, and new technologies. You saw the University open our libraries to the world with our remarkable partnership with Google. You maneuvered through the orange cones and yellow caution tape of a massive construction project to expand our critical work in the life sciences.
At Michigan, you have been immersed in a culture that works for the betterment of society. It is our most cherished value at the University, and I want you to take it with you to the next stage of your life.
Be fearless, and make people notice you.
At Michigan, we do not shun the spotlight. We’ve given you the confidence to stand up, and stand out. You’ve been encouraged to speak your mind, voice your opinion, and share your ideas.
You will need this boldness. You are entering a world unlike the one your parents knew. It’s different even from the world of five years ago, when you were in high school. It is a place that is growing remarkably smaller, and more competitive, every day.
Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, refers to this phenomenon as the flattening of the world. What he means is that we are more connected than ever.
This is his argument: We first became globalized when nations exercised their military might and built empires. Multinational corporations continued this shrinking of the globe by opening new markets, and seamlessly moving goods and services throughout the world. Today, because of staggering advances in technology, it is the individualnot a nation or a corporationwho has the power to single-handedly affect change.
Anyone, anywhere, can collaborate withor compete againstsomeone else 6,000 miles away, and have an impact.
Friedman says this flat new world, “Makes it possible for so many more people to plug and play, and you are going to see every color of the human rainbow take part.”
That means you, as a strand in this human rainbow, must be absolutely fluorescent with your creativity, your dreams, and your beliefs.
So run for public office. Propose an impossible hypothesisand collect the data to prove it right. Ask the hard questions or support a causeI know you have practiced that here. Stand up for what you believe in, and for what is right. You just might change the course of events for the better.
Show the world you have a University of Michigan education with all the critical thinking that comes with it.
Be fearless, and embrace those who are different from you.
The University opened your mind to new people, new languages, and new cultures. You have been surrounded by peers from every state in the Union and more than 115 different nations, and many of you have traveled abroad as part of your studies. You have been exposed to a world of difference.
On the night of September 11th, you were among fifteen thousand people who came together on the Diag for an emotional, historic vigil. You stood alongside strangers, and you made a statement to the world about tolerance and unity.
We have become a global neighborhood, yet sometimes we are more fragmented than ever. Remember the spirit of community you created that candlelit evening, and carry it with you. It is more valuable than your diploma.
Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize, said: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” You have an obligation to spread that sense of humanity from the Diag, and you should never hesitate to be generous in your treatment of others.
So now we say goodbye. I hope your Michigan lessons have served you well, and I hope you are fearless in serving the world well. We are proud of you, and we will miss you.
Attending the University of Michigan is all about life-changing experiences. This morning, you will enjoy one more of those moments. For the first time ever, when you will leave Michigan Stadium, you will do so as alumni of this great university!
Congratulations, good luck, and Go Blue!