Spring Commencement 2006
April 29, 2006
Good morning — and congratulations to the University of Michigan Class of 2006!
You did it! You successfully navigated Michigan and rightfully earned your diploma.
And you were never alone. Before today’s ceremony goes any further, I want to ask our graduates to stand, look over your shoulders, and thank your families and friends for their love and support all these years.
About a month ago, an undergraduate mailed me a card bearing a postmark from Spain, where he is spending the semester studying.
During the week, he told me, he is a mild-mannered college student taking classes in art history, Spanish and Islam.
“But on weekends,” he wrote, “I’m a manic traveler, seeking thrills in every corner of Europe, burning the candle at both ends, and loving every minute of it.”
Michigan students like Adam Fivenson know it takes confidence and courage to leave behind the familiar for the unknown. No one likes saying goodbye, certainly not to their friends and family, and to their home.
For all the fears and anxieties that come with leaving behind everything you know, there is an excitement and energy that balances the emotional scales. “Graduation” signifies an end to formal studies. “Commencement,” on the other hand, implies a new start. As Paul McCartney said, “You say goodbye and I say hello.”
It was 41 years ago when a graduate of this university took a very large step in an unfamiliar direction. Tied to a 25-foot cable, and traveling at more than 17,000 miles an hour, Ed White said goodbye — goodbye to his co-pilot and goodbye to the relative safety of his space capsule.
He pushed himself out of Gemini IV, and into the atmosphere, to become the first American — and the first Wolverine — to walk in space. For the next 20 minutes, as the whole world watched on TV, he did what any of us would do on a great adventure: he took pictures. When Mission Control told him it was time to return to the spaceship, he said it was the saddest moment of his life.
Letting go, literally, of all that was safe to Ed White gave the world its first real understanding of how men and machines performed in space.
It was nine years ago that a 13-year-old girl said goodbye to her world — her friends, her culture and her language — when she left her village in Romania for an unknown life in the United States.
Iuliana Dit knew only her parents and her brother when she arrived here in southeastern Michigan. Schoolbooks and television shows made little sense to her. Learning to speak, read and write English became the hardest thing she’d ever done.
But she was never scared. She never looked back, only forward, to what would come her way in this foreign country.
This morning, Iuliana sits in our stadium — an LS&A student graduating with honors and a degree in anthropology. She told me that moving to Ann Arbor and living among the many, many different students of U-M was the first time in America that she felt she really belonged. And she continues to learn, as she prepares for medical school in the fall, and a career of helping others who face challenges greater than hers.
It was four years ago that I said goodbye — to a university I had led for seven years, to a remarkable family of students and faculty, and to an Iowa community I loved. I came here, to Michigan, and began the most extraordinary experience I could have imagined.
You, the Class of 2006, are special to me. We started, together, at the University in the fall of ’02, and we have shared four memorable years. We’ve enjoyed beautiful October afternoons, the freezing cold of February, and brilliant spring days like today.
You may remember how at New Student Convocation, I confessed to being unsure about exactly where the Diag was, but I knew that its different pathways represented the countless directions of a Michigan education.
Since then, we’ve all learned our way around, from the Arb to Bursley to the Fish Bowl. We’ve deciphered the special language of Michigan: the UGLi, the Dude, Mojo and the Big House.
We’ve watched our life sciences complex come to fruition and the construction barrels disappear. We’ve seen the Walgreen Drama Center rise, along with a distinctive home for the Ford School and a beautiful new look for Hill Auditorium.
We’ve rallied to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami. We’ve worn blue wristbands for a new children’s hospital and yellow t-shirts for the Maize Rage.
And we’ve watched with great pride as our solar car team and our women’s softball team brought home national championships to our university.
Now, it is time for us to say goodbye. It begins when you march out of the stadium, no longer students of this great school, but University of Michigan alumni.
Although you walk away from the comfort and security of a campus you have known for years, something exciting awaits you — what Shakespeare called, “life’s uncertain voyage.”
You will encounter the unknown, but with a mind that has learned to examine problems from diverse perspectives. It was Francis Bacon who said, “If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties.” I hope you leave Michigan with a healthy appreciation for the unexpected.
You say goodbye, prepared to welcome differences, whether they are new cultures, diverse personalities, or opposing opinions. You have experienced some of this at the University, because we are a microcosm of the complexities of the wider world you are entering.
You will embrace challenges, and there are many awaiting you and the skills you have developed as a graduate of Michigan. We need your passion, your creativity, your skepticism and your intelligence. More than anything, we need your vision for a better world.
Einstein said imagination is more important than knowledge. Envision a more compassionate world, so that we may all say goodbye to disease, poverty and war.
Four years ago, you said goodbye to your parents and your high school friends. And look what you have accomplished since then. I know I speak for our faculty and deans when I say we can’t wait to see what you do next.
Saying goodbye also brings with it the promise of reunion, the joy of returning, and I hope you will experience that in coming back to Ann Arbor in the future. The University of Michigan will always be here for you, different in appearance but identical in spirit, and ready to welcome you home.
For today, goodbye.
For tomorrow, good luck.
And forever, Go Blue!