2006 Honors Convocation
March 19, 2006
I want to add to the congratulations that have been extended to our honors students. The students we recognize today are here because of their love of learning, their dedication to research, and their hard work.
They are also here because of the support and encouragement of their families, and I would like all of us to thank the parents and grandparents who helped make today possible.
One of my favorite authors is Taylor Branch, and I am just completing the final book in his compelling and encompassing trilogy about the civil rights movement. He shows readers the tremendous commitment not only of Martin Luther King Jr., but of everyday citizens who felt so strongly in changing the status quo that they turned thought into action. And those citizens included many, many college students.
“No American,” said Dr. King, “is without responsibility.”
Your excellence and aptitude as scholars comes with responsibility. Where the college students of the Sixties traveled to Selma and Birmingham to make a difference, today’s students must reach out beyond our borders and find ways to enlighten and advance the world.
It will not be easy. Then again, I don’t believe the University of Michigan is easy. If we are doing our jobs as faculty and administrators, we are helping to show you the world through challenging coursework, international opportunities, and a campus community filled with people from hundreds of different cultures and backgrounds.
Whether you are early in your Michigan career or preparing to graduate in a few weeks, I want you to feel a strong connection with — and commitment to — the greater world. Because it is a world that deeply needs your creativity, your enthusiasm and your intellect.
Well before Bono was talking with the Federal Reserve about debt relief, he was singing about lives lost to religious strife in his native Ireland, what he called, “trenches dug within our hearts … mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart.”
We are looking to you as tomorrow’s leaders to help eradicate those trenches — trenches of despair, of economic inequality, of poor health care — using your solutions and your cures.
In Bangladesh, sixty percent of adults cannot read. In Bosnia, four out of 10 adults have no job. In Botswana, the life expectancy is 33 years — your life there would be well than half over.
The world’s challenges are incredibly complex, and require the creativity and expertise of many great minds. That’s how we have to approach today’s problems — together — because the troubles we need to solve are too complicated to be explained by a lone scientist in a solitary lab or a single researcher in the field.
Find the best people to work with. Collaboration means power. It does not mean sacrificing leadership — it means enhancing it. Do not limit your vision.
Turn to each other, and to potential partners in the corporate world, in government, in higher education, and say, “Let’s find a way to make this happen.”
By reaching out and finding strong partners, you can create some amazing work that will genuinely transform the world.
John F. Kennedy said, “No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.” You are our brightest of beings, and I know that by working together, you will deliver the best of solutions.
Congratulations again on your remarkable achievements.