New Student Convocation
Sept. 1, 2005
Welcome to the Class of 2009!
You are now students at one of the great universities of the world, and I congratulate you.
We all know the great cities: London, Paris, New York. And the world’s great sights, such as the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall in China, and the wild game of Africa.
This week, you have arrived at one of the great institutions of learning. And like the spectacular places and images around the globe, the University of Michigan will be one of the most amazing adventures of your life.
You’ve come to us having had a remarkable career in high school. You were a star in the classroom. You were a leader of student council, the school paper and the drama club. You were a champion athlete, and you were a volunteer in your community.
You left all that behind, with a destination of Michigan. And now, you have arrived in Ann Arbor, to begin a journey that has you feeling excited, proud, anxious, and maybe even a little scared.
We all feel that way when we’re embarking on something new.
If you ask alumni of our university what they remember about their first year, they will regale you with grand stories of trying to find their classes, and learning to get along with new roommates, and feeling a mixed sense of awe and accomplishment at being a student at Michigan.
Regardless of their experiences, alumni all agree on one profound detail: the University of Michigan is about the people you will meet.
Here is what one alumnus told me when he graduated last spring:
“More than the academics,” he said, “my undergraduate years were defined by the people with whom I lived, went to classes, studied, and socialized. This school, despite its world renowned libraries and facilities, is truly about the people who fill the campus on a daily basis.”
You, too, will soon discover we are a great university because of people — our faculty, our staff, and students like you.
Our faculty are engaging professors like Daniel Klionsky and Bambi Haggins.
Dan Klionsky is a cell biologist who is as comfortable teaching introductory biology to freshmen as he is conducting research in our multi-million-dollar Life Sciences Institute. He wants you in his class, asking questions and discussing problems, because he takes an innovative approach to teaching that will have you absorbing science unlike any subject you’ve studied before.
On the very first day of class, he will tell you this: I will not lecture to you. And, he will give you his notes, so you don’t need to take them yourself.
Professor Klionsky’s methods are so impressive, and so effective, that the National Science Foundation has named him a Distinguished Teaching Scholar.
More than teaching you biology, he will teach you how to think and how to discover scientific principles yourself.
You will also learn critical thinking in the classroom and studio of Bambi Haggins, an assistant professor of film and video studies who teaches an intensive course where students develop and produce their own situation comedies.
Joined by lecturer Terri Sarris, Professor Haggins will show you the tremendous responsibility that comes with making media.
This is a course about more than creating a TV show. You will learn to think creatively and critically about the genre of sitcoms, and the messages they deliver to millions of viewers. You’ll examine how TV families were depicted in comedies of the 1950s, and compare them against the sitcoms of the Seventies. You will be a writer, a producer and a director, and you will be responsible for what goes out over the airwaves.
As you explore Michigan, you will interact with librarians, archivists, and curators such as Carole McNamara. She is the person behind a remarkable traveling exhibit that comes to campus next month. This exhibit, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” is an extraordinary work of the 20th century that captured the Great Depression in photographs and prose.
If you are interested in literature, photography, American history, or documentary reporting, you will enjoy this work by photographer Walker Evans and author James Agee.
As a curator, Carole McNamara works to assemble exhibits that fit both your personal interests and the subjects you pursue in your studies. We have one of the country’s top 10 university art museums, and in the time that you are here, you will see us build a magnificent new addition that will transform the building.
And, of course, as you travel around the University, you will encounter other students who are as bright and interesting as you.
You might meet Warner Washington, especially if you live in South Quad where he is a resident advisor. He is starting his senior year as an Art & Design major, and he knows how you are feeling as a freshman: Your parents are gone, you have incredible freedom, and there’s no one telling you what to do. That’s good, right?
Until you have a question. Or a problem. Or a crisis.
That’s where Warner can help. Like all Michigan RAs, his job is to help you cope with challenges intelligently, and his door is always open to you. He will tell you that this is a huge university, but it will begin to feel like home if you step outside your room and discover what we have to offer.
And you will find amazing university citizens like Brittany Marino, who is involved in more organizations than I have fingers. She is active in the Native American Student Association; Alpha Phi Omega, a national community service fraternity; the Ann Arbor Pow Wow Committee; Servicepalooza; the Trotter House Advisory Council; and I think I need to stop now!
Initially I was a bit worried that Brittany was doing so much that her coursework was being overlooked, but, as I said, she is amazing. Her GPA is 3.6, with a double major in sociology and communications and a minor in Native American studies. She loves being a U-M student so much that she is trying to accept the fact she can’t stay in college forever.
So the time has come for you to discover the people of Michigan. Explore this community as you would the great places of the world.
Walk the campus and take in the opinions and perspectives, the arguments and the causes.
Wander the libraries and museums, and discover the knowledge that surrounds you.
Uncover the difference that Michigan will make in your life, and find how you can make a difference in the life of Michigan.
Follow the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said:
“Explore, and explore. Be neither chided nor flattered out of your position of perpetual inquiry.”
One of the first places I invite you to explore is the historic President’s House. I am having an open house beginning at 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon and I would love to meet you and hear about your plans.
I live on South University, behind the Graduate Library and across the street from the Law Quad, and I hope you’ll stop by.
And as you begin this grand adventure, I encourage you to share your impressions.
In your printed programs tonight, and in your residence halls, you will find a postcard that I hope you will send to me. I want to know what you are finding as you make your way into our remarkable community.
Take a few minutes and tell me about your first discovery, your first mistake, your first debate, and, of course, your first success.
I know it’s going to be a fantastic trip.
Go explore! And Go Blue!