April 26, 2008
Congratulations to today’s graduates, the first class in the 191-year history of this great university to graduate on the Diag!
I want to join our other speakers in welcoming everyone to this very special ceremony in a very special location.
Just as remarkable as our graduates are their families, for the love and encouragement they have given you. I want to thank these Michigan families for sharing their sons and daughters with us, because they have made us a better university.
And graduates, please join me in thanking your families for everything they have done for you to make today’s celebration possible.
As you know, today’s ceremony is a historic undertaking that has involved a remarkable transformation of the Central Campus to host our graduates, their friends, and families.
But take away the video screens, the sound system, the hundreds of volunteers, and the thousands of folding chairs, and we have the Diag, the physical heart of our campus and the perfect icon of a University of Michigan education.
Like the trees that surround us, your academic roots are here, bound tightly in an unparalleled experience—one that William Shawn, a Michigan student and legendary New Yorker editor, equated with discovering “life’s bright possibilities.”
The library behind me, one of the great beacons of knowledge, has been both an intellectual resource and a refuge. Whether you walked through its doors and deep into its stacks, or explored it virtually through your laptop, the library has opened your mind to new ideas, places and peoples.
Before me, protected at the very center of today’s graduating class, is the familiar brass Block M. As freshmen, you sidestepped this icon for fear of a failed exam. Traditions such as this have been an important part of your Michigan experience, whether it is the winged helmet, the maize and blue, or singing of “The Victors.”
You yourselves are about to become part of this University’s rich history when you join one of the largest alumni bodies anywhere in the world. It is a global family that will serve you well personally and professionally, whatever career you choose to pursue.
Just as the paths of the Diag have guided you to and from your classes across campus, so, too, have you learned to connect thoughts and theories in new and fascinating ways. And from here, these walkways will take you in directions both intended and foreign, and your Michigan education will shape those steps you take.
The true promise of our University sits before me, draped in caps and gowns and eager to celebrate the tremendous accomplishment of a Michigan diploma. Graduates of the University of Michigan have walked on the moon, won Pulitzer Prizes, graced the stages of Broadway, and occupied the Oval Office. I am confident that you, the Class of 2008, will continue to break barriers and make headlines, drawing on the knowledge, creativity, and insight you have gained here from your faculty and your classmates.
Saying goodbye can be difficult. Raoul Wallenberg, a Michigan alumnus and humanitarian of the Holocaust, said of his days here: “I feel so at home in my little Ann Arbor that I’m beginning to sink down roots here and have a hard time imagining my leaving it.”
Yet saying farewell brings with it not only the prospect of new and exciting experiences elsewhere, but also the promise of reunion and the joy of returning. And I sincerely hope that in the future you will take the time to come back to Ann Arbor and feel the thrill of remembrance. The University of Michigan, and the Diag, will always be here for you.
For today, goodbye.
For tomorrow, good luck.
And forever, Go Blue!