University Graduate Exercises
April 27, 2007
April 27, 2007, is a tremendous day for everyone in this historic hall.
For our graduates, this is a day to celebrate … to walk across the stage and out into the world as the holder of a graduate degree from one of the world’s great universities. Your achievements as master’s and doctoral graduates are the first in careers I know will be extraordinary.
For our faculty, this is an afternoon of accomplishment … of knowing you have mentored tomorrow’s scholars and furthered the legacy of exceptional graduate education at Michigan.
And for the families gathered here, this is a moment of great pride … these graduates are your sons and daughters, your husbands and wives, your sisters and brothers, and you have been a vital part of their lives throughout their rigorous academic journey.
Each and every person in this auditorium views today’s ceremony through a different lens. The prism of perspective is invaluable, and if we have done our jobs as faculty and administrators, today’s graduates leave with diverse viewpoints that will grow more powerful with the years.
If I can give you one message as you prepare to leave us, it is this: Appreciate perspective.
Consider this case study.
Fifty-seven years ago, a graduate student like you received his U-M doctoral degree in chemistry, and set out to conduct research into drug therapies for treating cancer.
After several years in the lab, Jerome Horwitz felt he and his colleagues had created a compound that would slow the growth of cancer cells. Alas, his tests in mice showed no positive progress, and Dr. Horwitz’s synthesized drug was put on the shelf. He was the first to say his experiment had failed miserably.
Fast forward 20 years to another graduate of the University of Michigan. It is the mid-1980s and a new disease called AIDS is causing what amounts to panic in medical and public health circles. Dr. Samuel Broder is a researcher and administrator at the National Cancer Institute who is desperately seeking something that will stop the disease.
When a drug company came forward with Dr. Horwitz’s forgotten compound, Samuel Broder saw a glimmer of hope. Where Dr. Horwitz’s drug was ineffective with cancer, the AIDS virus responded differently to the compound.
Dr. Broder became a champion of the drug Dr. Horwitz created. He experimented with the compound, pushed for clinical trials, and lobbied for FDA approval. In 1987, that drug—AZT—became the first genuine treatment for AIDS. It helped transform the diagnosis of HIV from a death sentence to a chronic disease that can be managed.
The story of Drs. Horwitz and Broder is one of patience and perspective—skills I believe you have honed throughout your graduate studies. Where Jerome Horwitz conceded failure and advocated patience, Samuel Broder saw potential and hope. The difference between them was two decades and the right disease.
It reminds me of the Paul Simon lyric, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”
When it comes to perspective, each and every one of today’s graduates has provided a unique one with your dissertations and theses. Your scholarship is exemplary, broad and deep: You have analyzed the vast, rich literature of the Third World. You have applied the mechanics of engineering to help prevent injuries to women in childbirth. You have determined that forest fires release levels of mercury emissions that previously were unknown.
You have explored complex issues, created new knowledge and contributed scholarship for tomorrow’s world. You have built upon the accomplishments of your predecessors, and you are creating a stronger foundation of knowledge for tomorrow’s graduate students.
This is precisely what Henry Tappan envisioned when he accepted the job as this University’s first president and established the foundation of graduate education and the modern research university.
Henry Tappan was a radical who took American higher education of the 1850s—a system focused largely on vocational training—and saw its vast potential through the prism of graduate education.
He said: “This conception of education is not that of merely teaching men a trade, an art, or a profession; but that of quickening and informing souls with truths and knowledges and giving them the power of using all their faculties aright in whatever direction they choose to exert them.”
It was so extreme a notion—a college with laboratories and libraries and an observatory—that it led to Tappan being the first president fired at the University. But not before the germ of his idea was firmly planted.
You, the graduates of 2007, are the reality of his dream. And if you think graduate school was a challenge, listen to what Henry Tappan expected of Michigan alumni:
“To go forth into the world as ministers of truth and virtue … to adorn every profession … to labor in every sphere of duty … to sustain the state as majestic pillars … to carry forward every science with an earnest devotion … to add great works to a nation’s literature .. and to pour, through every channel of society, streams of influence to refresh, beauty and invigorate.”
I have no doubt you are capable of achieving these goals, and more. The heights you will reach are limitless. The foundation upon which you stand will be your University of Michigan education. And that will always provide an exceptional perspective.
Congratulations, again, on a job well done.