Walgreen Drama Center-Arthur Miller Tribute
Oct. 14, 2005
Today, we celebrate the power of a gift.
It began with Avery Hopwood. He graduated from the University 100 years ago, and went on to become the most successful playwright of his era. He died far too young, and left behind a gift that would change creative writing at the University of Michigan.
The same year that Avery Hopwood tragically drowned, Charles Walgreen Jr. graduated with a pharmacy degree from the University. His education was one that would transform our concept of the American drugstore. And it was an education he would continually repay, with gifts to the University supporting scholarships, professorships, and programs in Pharmacy, Education, Music, and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
As Charles Walgreen was beginning his distinguished career, a young New Yorker named Arthur Miller was moving to Michigan, drawn to the University by a new prize called the Hopwood that he hoped would validate his love of writing. Just as the world outside of Ann Arbor would come to know the prestige of the Hopwood Awards, it would come to recognize the magnitude of Arthur Miller’s words.
Avery Hopwood gave the University the gift of an endowed writing program that attracts, encourages, and rewards exceptional fiction, drama, non-fiction, and poetry.
Charles Walgreen Jr. gave us the gift of a theatre that will bring to fruition the dreams of our university’s performing artists.
And Arthur Miller, who earned a Hopwood Award with his very first play, gave us the most personal of gifts — that of his name, one that is iconic in the arts.
Avery Hopwood, Charles Walgreen Jr., and Arthur Miller all show us the power of the Michigan Difference.
Today, we celebrate the naming of the Walgreen Drama Center. This coming winter, we will commemorate 75 years of Hopwood Awards at the University of Michigan. And in 18 months, we will forever recognize Arthur Miller by opening the doors of the only theatre in the world to have the honor of carrying his name.
With his award-winning dramas, Arthur Miller made America look at itself. He explored and exposed the human condition, in all its beauty and all its cruelty.
For all the weight of his work, he said that the hardest part about writing a play was figuring out how best to end it.
“Real life isn’t comfortable being boxed in,” he said, “so that may be the most intriguing and difficult challenge for the writer — to tell a story with the proper closure.”
Our challenge this morning is finding the best way to tell the story of Arthur Miller. And while we are rightfully calling this a tribute, today’s story does not have an ending. Rather, because of the Walgreens, today is a beginning — for the School of Music, for the University of Michigan, and for the community that will experience the human condition that unfolds at the Walgreen Drama Center.
When Arthur Miller left us last February, Broadway showed its deep respect for him by dimming its lights. With the Walgreen Drama Center and the Arthur Miller Theatre, the University of Michigan will bring up the lights on this great man and the vital role that theatre plays in our society.
If we have one regret in today’s celebration, it is that this auditorium is absent Arthur Miller. He visited his alma mater many times, he supported our young writers, and he was always gracious with his time when it came to U-M students.
The world saw Arthur Miller through many lenses; we will always see him, first and foremost, as a loyal alumnus.
Arthur Miller’s time at U-M was a fruitful period for his evolving sense of moral and social responsibility. It also gave him the opportunity to consider the role of the citizen in a functioning democracy.