2008 Honors Convocation
March 16, 2008
Our annual Honors Convocation always sits high atop my list of special days on campus. It is a genuine pleasure to pay tribute to our amazing young scholars and their love of learning, their dedication to research, and their hard work!
I also want to recognize the families and friends of our students, because they have provided the support and encouragement that have helped make today’s celebration possible. Let’s give them the thanks they deserve.
It seems only appropriate that we have devoted our thoughts today to the role of Michigan’s best students in a revolution.
We have seen Michigan students take the knowledge they gained on campus to make extraordinary contributions to the I-Revolution—even before we knew something new and different was under way.
Claude Shannon, who earned two degrees from the University, is considered the father of digital communication and information theory—a theory he first proffered as a 21-year-old master’s student in 1937.
Alumnus Bill Joy co-founded Sun Microsystems and is known as the “Edison of the Internet.” Tony Fadell co-created the iPod after graduating from Michigan; his classmate, Larry Page, is the co-founder of Google.
It should not surprise anyone that when talking about the information revolution, the University of Michigan is at the forefront of change.
I want to approach the “I Revolution” and the University of Michigan from a different angle. Let’s take that “I” and have it symbolize the power and responsibility of the Individual to work for the greater good of all. Because without the commitment and drive of individuals like yourselves, there is no change—in information technology, health care, public policy, or any other facet of our society.
Just a few days ago I returned from leading a delegation of University faculty to Ghana and South Africa, and during those travels I was eyewitness to communities and universities that do not enjoy all the advancements we take for granted in our every day lives.
We think nothing of going into one of our library buildings, always expecting to find whatever reference we seek, because our collections (and our progress in digitization) are so vast. We would be dismayed not to have access to the very latest in scientific instruments, or appropriate laboratory space for almost any type of experiment we could imagine. But these are luxuries that are not often found in other parts of the world, including areas of Africa.
This is a region of the world rich in people, culture and history, but poor in technology. Yet what is lacking in technological wizardry is overshadowed by the commitment of individuals to improve the health and well-being of Ghanaians and South Africans.
We saw that in Dr. Timothy Johnson, the chair of our Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a long-time visitor to Ghana. Dr. Johnson is a familiar face in West Africa, having spent more than 20 years training Ghanaian doctors who are committed to furthering their education and practicing medicine in their communities.
In fact, he is received like a rock star because of his good deeds. It was really quite remarkable to witness the reception he encounters. Dr. Johnson is beloved in Ghana because he is dedicated to saving the lives of mothers-to-be. Maternal mortality rates in Ghana are among the highest in the world, and Dr. Johnson’s training is designed to reduce pregnancy-related deaths among women by equipping Ghanaian physicians with the tools they need.
Just as important as providing this high-quality training is that it is conducted in Ghana. This is not a case of “come to America because we know what is best for you.” Ghanaian doctors in this program tell us they want to practice medicine in their homeland, and providing this training locally allows them to make the life-saving contributions they envisioned when they decided to become doctors.
The results are astounding: Sixty-two physicians have trained in the program, and all but one has stayed in Ghana to practice medicine. That’s more than five dozen doctors prepared to help women and their babies through the ordeal of childbirth, often in rural settings far removed from today’s technologies.
This collaborative training program is a win-win for doctors and the patients they serve. I met a number of medical students currently enrolled in the program and their pride in what they could do for their country was palpable. It is particularly rewarding when you learn that nationwide, 60 percent of medical specialists who were trained in Ghana (in non-U-M programs) leave to practice in other countries.
This is the power of individuals to launch a revolution—to think beyond themselves to spark a revolution of life-saving health care that will resonate for generations.
As University of Michigan honors students, you are our brightest stars. You have thrown yourself into your coursework, challenged your classmates and impressed your professors. Or perhaps you have impressed your classmates and challenged your professors. Our faculty love students like you who ask the hard questions and force the class to think a little harder about an issue.
We celebrate you today not only for your remarkable accomplishments, but also for your unlimited potential. We expect you to lead a revolution.
You have the intelligence our world desperately requires. You have that intellectual fire that burns for the answers we need to countless challenges. We look forward to the changes you will lead, and we congratulate you on your impressive academic achievements as Michigan students.