December 16, 2007
Congratulations to all the students who will leave here today as alumni of the University of Michigan!
For our graduates, this is one of the most notable moments in lives that I know will be rich with extraordinary events. But it is just as special a day for your families, who prepared you for Michigan, encouraged you, and supported you.
I’d like all of us to take a moment to thank the parents and grandparents, brothers, sisters and spouses who gave our university community such wonderful students. Graduates, undoubtedly there were times you felt alone in your college career, but you always had the support of your family and friends. Please stand and join me in giving them the ovation they deserve.
As graduates, you leave today a changed person from that new U-M student of a few years ago. You carry with you new knowledge, different perspectives, wonderful memories, and, perhaps, a bit of debt.
I want to add one more item as you pack up your boxes and duffel bags. It is a checklist for approaching each day as an educated citizen equipped with the insight and skills to make a difference.
First on this post-graduation checklist: Explore life. In a few minutes you are going to hear from one of the scientific pioneers of this era, Dr. Francis Collins. You may know that Dr. Collins spent many years here at the University, and we are extremely proud of his ties to Michigan. It was here that he and his colleagues discovered the genes for cystic fibrosis and neurofibromatosis.
His talents as a scientist and a leader took him to the National Center for Human Genome Institute, where he very capably steered a vast, multinational effort to sequence the human genome.
By unlocking the genetic makeup of human beings, Francis Collins has advanced an exploration that is taking doctors, pharmacists, ethicists and politicians in countless directions.
The human genome is but one of the major discoveries that await your intellectual curiosity. The author Kurt Vonnegut once called new knowledge “the most valuable commodity on earth.” That has never been truer than in this new century, where knowledge—not property or industry or wealth—is the cornerstone for success.
You are living in an age of unquenchable discovery. The potential of biomedicine, the immediacy of global communications, the power and precision of new technologies—all will transform our approach to health, the arts, and public policy. But only with bright thinkers like yourselves leading that transformation.
Item number two on your checklist is that you always find time to enjoy life.
It sounds easy enough to do, but amidst the day-to-day demands of life we sometimes forget to pause and live. Always remember that life is tactile, not virtual. It is meant to be embraced, and shared, and celebrated.
A few weeks ago, a member of the Michigan community reminded all of us of this.
As a professional, he has been a model of integrity and class—someone who reached countless pinnacles in his career. Fame and front pages have been his reward. Yet at the end of the day, Lloyd Carr stepped back and said: Family and friends come before work.
I really can’t think of a better approach to living, and you shouldn’t wait until retirement to try it. Do your job well, work hard to make a difference, and always remember that nothing is more important than your friends and family.
This leads me to my third and final item on your checklist, and that is to challenge life. Really ask the hard questions! This class of graduates has developed the critical thinking skills required to address the world’s most complex problems, and we are eager for your solutions.
Ralph Waldo Emerson told us: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” As students, you created and led student organizations, reached out to those less fortunate, and offered new ideas to persistent problems. You learned teamwork, independent thinking, and leadership by example.
As alumni, you must apply those same attributes—with the same enthusiasm—to social issues large and small.
And there are many.
You may choose to apply your knowledge toward controlling drug costs and improving health care—issues facing your grandparents today that hopefully will be a memory when you watch your grandchildren graduate from college.
Maybe you will collaborate to promote sustainable forms of energy, because we cannot continue to consume our natural resources with abandon. Or you may decide to mentor a child whose only mistake was being born in the wrong neighborhood in the wrong school district.
As Jonathan Gallagher just told us, we will look to you, as Michigan alumni, to use your education to change the world. It is an education fostered by the finest faculty in the world and expanded by you and your eagerness to learn more.
This is the Michigan Difference, that measure of academic excellence that sets our university apart from other institutions, and it defined your time here. It is what gives your diploma meaning.
As an alumnus, you will be the Michigan Difference. You will explore life, you will enjoy it, and most importantly you will challenge the world. You will be the leaders and best because you will make an impact on our world. We will miss you on campus, but we will benefit from you every day because of the great work you are bound to accomplish.
We will be waiting to hear from you.
Congratulations, and Go Blue.