University Graduate Exercises
April 25, 2008
It is magnificent to stand before this Class of 2008. Graduates, you are remarkable women and men, and celebrating your accomplishments is one of the most rewarding experiences of being president of this great university.
I join Provost Sullivan, Dean Weiss and Dr. Smith in extending my warmest congratulations to you. And congratulations also to the families and friends who have supported you through years of advanced study at Michigan, and are here today to share your joy.
Your experiences at Michigan have been shaped by many people, none more important than the faculty. They have challenged you in numerous ways, leading you to new discoveries about your academic discipline and, hopefully, your inner self.
One of the great faculty members in the history of this institution was the philosopher John Dewey. The University of Michigan was his first stop after receiving his doctorate, and he spent a decade here shaping both students and ideas. I don’t want to scare our Ph.D. recipients today, but his starting teaching salary was $900 a year.
It was here where John Dewey met his wife, wrote his first book, gained a reputation as challenging but fair teacher, and rose through the ranks to chair the Department of Philosophy.
He also found time to ponder a question posed to him by the graduating class of 1890: What should I expect of a college education?
His answer had many facets, as you might expect. He stressed the importance and value of losing one’s provincialism and exploring different thoughts and cultures. Equally important, he said, is learning to set aside partisan ideas; he felt it essential to exercise patience before jumping to conclusions or taking sides. There is nothing weak, he said, in suspending judgment and collecting the facts.
But the most critical component of a higher education, he wrote, is to take all you have learned as a student and find ways to apply that knowledge to being an ethical human being. Without connecting your studies to the very essence of human nature—emphasis on human—your work as a student is simply a random collection of intellectual bits and pieces.
In 21st century terms, John Dewey would say your education should provide the tools to be open-minded, flexible, and interconnected with your fellow citizens.
Graduates, you leave here to join a world that needs you, and your intellect, more than ever. We are in dire need of great minds that are eager to collaborate and create, to develop solutions to problems that sometimes seem overwhelming—crises like disease, waste, and war.
Your studies here—the research, the teaching, the writing, the re-writing—have exposed you to myriad concepts. And if we have done our jobs as faculty and administrators, we have worked with you to appreciate the necessity of connecting those ideas in countless ways. As your classmate Sara Crider just reminded us, the knowledge you have obtained does not exist in a vacuum.
We need you to apply the thoughtfulness and ingenuity you have honed here at Michigan. Today you wear the academic hoods that represent the many schools and colleges of our University. This rainbow of Michigan academia is emblematic of the diversity of careers you will follow, the multitude of successes you will find, and the wealth of lives you will enhance.
Michigan alumni are known worldwide for their leadership and their ability to drive change. We expect nothing less of you, and look forward to your accomplishments—accomplishments that begin with today’s celebration.
Once again, congratulations!