New Student Convocation
September 2, 2004, Crisler Arena
Address by President Mary Sue Coleman
Good evening—I am delighted to welcome you to our wonderful university!
I know these have been 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 to the campus.
You have made an outstanding choice—as you have heard from everyone else tonight, the University of Michigan is one of the great universities of the world. Every year, the academic quality of our incoming class rises, and you should be very proud to be part of such an accomplished group. We will expect and demand a high standard from you.
Provost Courant encouraged you to explore the many intellectual and cultural opportunities that are waiting in our classrooms and across the campus. We want you to engage in a wide array of ideas and learn how to delve deeply into the ideas that matter to you the most.
We are proud of our academic tradition, but I also want to highlight another great tradition of Michigan that has been in the news lately—our century of representation at the Summer Olympic Games!
Our swimming team especially has a strong history of Olympic competition, and some of our current and former students just won medals. The star of the Olympics, Michael Phelps, has told the world that he ALWAYS wanted to come to Michigan, and is planning to submit an application for January!
This is just one of our great traditions—Michigan at its very best, like our tradition of academic excellence.
Tonight, I want to encourage you to pursue a very personal tradition while you are here.
Generations of Michigan students, like students everywhere, have written about their college experience and their journey of discovery.
In fact, some of the great treasures in our campus libraries are the letters and journals that our own students have written—letters written by the playwright Arthur Miller and President Gerald Ford when they were undergraduates, and letters from hundreds of others.
Their letters give us a first-hand view into the lives our students have lived over the centuries. Those students have a lot in common with you—they worried about the food—the weather—and the long reading assignments!
Now it is your turn—you can capture the story of your Michigan experience by telling it to your family and friends. Whether you write to them through instant messaging, e-mail, or a BLOG, you will create a powerful record that they will treasure now and that you will treasure in the future.
And speaking of instant messaging—I wonder if all of you have finally told your parents what it means when you write “P-O-S” on your screen?
Parents—in case you don’t know, it means “Parent Over Shoulder!” Our new students will not have to write that any more!
As I prepared to talk to you today, I met someone I had not encountered in over forty years—Mary Sue Wilson. I found her when I looked at her travel journal from 1963, written during a summer of study in Europe.
Of course, I was Mary Sue Wilson, and today, that journal is a window into a piece of my life that I have not visited for a very long time.
My college, Grinnell, gave students the opportunity to study abroad, and that summer I attended classes and lectures in Oxford, Austria, and the Soviet Union. Because I wrote about that trip throughout the summer, now I can clearly view myself as a teenager, and see how I first encountered the world.
I had not looked at my journal for many years, and found many surprises—my priorities were very different then, and it is amazing to see that I was so thoroughly focused on food—just like so many college students! But I also can see how I experienced a sense of global awareness for the first time.
My journal reminded me that the summer of 1963 was a moment when President Kennedy was encouraging cooperation and exchange with the Soviet Union—my classmates and I felt like we were participating in history when we met fellow students at Moscow University. As you will learn here at Michigan, part of our education was finding out the many ways we were different, as well as similar.
Reading my journal today, I discovered that I had copied a long passage from the novel Dodsworth, by Sinclair Lewis, in which he spoke disparagingly of American travelers.
I can’t remember if I wrote it as a warning to myself, but there is one paragraph I want you to remember as you set off on your journey today. You should take this as a warning!
“He who has seen one cathedral ten times has seen something; he who has seen ten cathedrals once has seen but little; and he who has spent one-half hour in each of one hundred cathedrals has seen nothing at all. Four hundred pictures on a wall are four hundred times less interesting than one picture; and no one knows a café till he has gone there often enough to know the names of the waiters.”
Those months in Europe marked a very special time in my life, separate from everything I had known.
Looking back, that trip celebrated the end of one life for me and the start of a new one—significant events were about to change me, and all of us in the next few months.
Some of you, hearing me say “the summer of 1963,” heard a shadow cast itself across that summer. A few months after I returned, President Kennedy was assassinated, and our country was stunned in a way it would not be again until September 2001. Then, I valued the deep humanity and intelligence of our campus community.
I have seen our students at Michigan also come together to comprehend our global challenges, and more importantly, to seek ways to solve those issues.
After I returned from that summer in Europe, I also found the start of my own new life, because that was the semester I realized that one of my classmates at Grinnell was not just a friend—he became my fiancé and later, my husband, and has been my best friend for all these years.
So, my travel journal captured a moment in my life that was special for reasons I could never have understood at the time.
The letters and e-mail you write to your families will not only be a gift to them, but also will be a gift to your future selves. Someday, you will realize what a treasure of memory you will have created by writing about your daily life—even the food!
Your computer screens are windows into the future, and someday will be windows into your past.
I want you to think back to that quotation I read from Dodsworth—I hope you will remember it as you begin THIS journey.
In your courses, we do not only want to show you ten different concepts—we want you to learn how to study one concept, ten ways.
If you work hard, and are lucky, you will read a hundred books, and meet a thousand people while you are here.
If you work VERY hard, and are VERY lucky, you will learn how to read one book a hundred ways, and will learn how to understand one person, a thousand different ways.
That is the best wish I can offer you today.
I know you will have a great journey of exploration at Michigan.
We expect you to MAKE history—and I want you to WRITE your history as you make it!
Welcome to your journey at our great University of Michigan, and GO BLUE!