New Student Convocation
August 28, 2003, Crisler Arena
Address by President Mary Sue Coleman
Good evening, and welcome to this wonderful university!
I know these have been very exciting days for all of you. You may have traveled here by car or by plane, but as you got close to the university, you must have realized that this week, all roads lead to Ann Arbor. I mean that quite literally, because during move-in week, we change the traffic pattern so that many of the streets run one-way toward the campus.
The first week of college is a time you will remember for the rest of your life — moving into a residence hall, living away from home, and meeting your roommates and classmates.
I vividly remember helping our son, Jonathan, move into his residence hall on those first few days of college almost 15 years ago. His room looked so bare to me — but of course Jonathan was busy meeting his new friends, and did not have time to notice the minimal furnishings.
So my husband and I rushed to hang curtains and posters, to sort and organize clothes, to hook up his computer, and to find nooks for all of his overflowing belongings. At the end of a frenzied day I admired our decorating work with smug pleasure.
But I learned two things that all the parents here are about to learn: first, even though we tried to mark his new territory with our imprint, there still came a moment when we had to watch him in the rearview mirror and wave good-bye.
And second, I learned that his room would never again be so clean or orderly! Having a perfectly appointed dorm room was just not on Jonathans list of priorities.
In fact, one of the joys of college life is not having someone remind you to clean your room, go to class or get that paper done! I know the students in the audience have been anticipating this freedom for years!
However, in exchange for that newfound freedom, we expect that you will take charge of all aspects of your life here at the University of Michigan in a responsible way.
Doesnt that sound like a fair bargain? Freedom, joined to responsibility? By choosing to become a student at the University of Michigan, you have already demonstrated your emerging independence and superb qualifications.
As of today, you are embarking on an adventure shared by the hundreds of thousands of Michigan students who have gone before you. And because each of you brings a unique life to our campus, the “Michigan experience” will be different for each one of you.
Your new university begins this year having achieved a great victory in the Supreme Court of the United States. In defending this case during the last six years, the University of Michigan led the way for all colleges and universities in our nation.
The core principle of these rulings affirms that the University of Michigan, and thus all colleges and universities in our nation, have the right and the responsibility to select its own student body — to build classes with students from varied geographical regions, from a spectrum of life experiences, racial and ethnic backgrounds, with widely differing talents and interests, from different kinds of educational experiences.
In applying these criteria to a large array of outstanding candidates, we selected each of you — anticipating not only how we could shape your future, but also what you would bring to this exciting intellectual cauldron that is the University of Michigan. I know each of you has come here to create your own future, but all of you collectively are building the future of this University.
And now, we all have important tasks ahead. You, the students, and we, the faculty and staff, are beginning an exciting educational journey.
Some journeys are measured in miles, and some journeys are measured in time.
Some journeys have a clear destination, like your trip to Ann Arbor today, and other journeys can meander without a clear destination in mind.
Your ultimate destination at the University of Michigan is located about 100 yards from here, in Michigan Stadium, where we hold Commencement each Spring. The distance of 100 yards is very significant at our university: it is the length of a football field!
How long does it take to run 100 yards? In 1935, the great athlete Jesse Owens came to our old stadium for a Big Ten track and field event, and he broke a world record here, running the 100-yard dash in 9.4 seconds.
How long will it take you to go 100 yards from here to the Commencement site?
I have some bad news for you.
It will take you a bit longer than Jesse Owens 9.4 seconds to go those 100 yards — it will take you about four years to go that distance.
Sometimes the journey is all about the destination — like your trip to Ann Arbor. But your college life is not about the destination over at the stadium — the journey itself is the main event of your next four years.
What will that journey be like? You may already have a vision of what the next four years will bring and who you will be when you graduate. But guess what? One of the most exciting aspects of college is how much your vision today is likely to change over the next four years.
So tonight, I want to suggest your first assignment. If you were to sit down tonight and write a movie script about your next four years, what kind of script would it be? Would it be a comedy? Would it be a romance? Would it include poetry, music, dance, and science? Would it have you dreaming in a foreign language or visiting a place you have never been?
Maybe you will be starring in an action-adventure film, hunting for a treasure. What treasure will you seek here?
The art treasures in our museums, or the ancient Egyptian papyrus in our library collection?
Would your treasure be the genetic discoveries in our laboratories, or the cure for a terrible disease? Perhaps your treasure will be a brilliant insight of philosophy or the creation of a magnificent poem.
So this is your assignment: I want you to write a short outline describing your vision of the next four years, and to send it to a good friend while tucking away a copy for yourself.
All of our faculty, including me, thought we had an idea of what our script would be — and the joy of a college experience is the discovery of how differently it can turn out, if we keep ourselves open to new ideas. I suspect your family and friends who would love to tell you about the difference between their vision and the reality of their college years — ask them about it tonight!
I do know that your college experience will be a fascinating journey. Even if you think you have a clear vision of your life here, I can promise that you will have some scenes, and possibly an ending that you cannot imagine right now.
In four years, I will ask you to send me your original outline along with a commentary about how your personal script really turned out! Then, I can tell you some of those stories at your commencement.
At the University of Michigan, we will immerse you in an ocean of ideas, and we will take delight in seeing how you navigate them.
If you are entirely comfortable in all of your classes here, then we are probably not doing our jobs properly! We expect that you will go through a period of questioning many pre-conceived ideas. And then, we will help you to discover the identity you want to create for yourself. That is what college is all about.
There are 5500 scripts waiting to be written tonight and endlessly revised over the next few years. Each one promises to be a unique and fascinating story.
I can hardly wait to see how they turn out.
Five hundred thousand alumni have found their way to exciting and rewarding lives through the portal of the University of Michigan — and so will you.
Tonight and tomorrow your parents and family will watch you in their rearview mirrors. Be sure to remind them that they are not watching a farewell. What they will see is the first scene of your new life here.
It may be called a “rearview” mirror, but — it is really a window into the future.
Make sure you provide them with a wonderful first scene!
Good night, and Go Blue !!!