March 15, 2009
This afternoon’s program has been a marvelous display of the intellectual power of the University of Michigan.
I want to thank the Thurnau professors who do so much to inspire and engage our students. There is no time in life quite like that of being an undergraduate, and your commitment in the classroom only enhances that learning experience for our students.
And I want to commend our honors students. As high school students, you worked hard to gain admission to Michigan, and as U-M students you have continued to impress us with your accomplishments, your diligence, and your love of learning. Your success is tremendously rewarding to your professors and deans, and you should take pride in your achievements.
I also want to recognize the families and friends of our students, because they provide the love and encouragement that makes today’s celebration possible. Please join me in giving them the recognition they deserve.
Our speakers today have shared their hopes and concerns for the future and a world that has limited natural resources. The challenges we face – with our transportation systems, our energy resources, our food and air and water – are immense.
I want to talk about climate change of a different nature.
Our state is hurting. We are feeling economic pain more deeply than any region in our country, and it is creating spasms of anxiety and uncertainty in our communities.
But we should understand that the seeds of a better future are right in our backyard. After all, Michigan has a tremendous legacy of innovation. And innovation is what will see our state, and our nation, through our current downturn and lay the foundations for a new and more robust economy.
We should remember that Michigan is the state that gave birth to Henry Ford and the assembly line. Thomas Edison grew up here, and made his parents a little crazy with what one author called “a highly active, free-roaming imagination.”
The baby food you ate some 18 or 19 years ago? There’s a good chance it was Gerber, and Daniel Gerber was a Michigander who perfected the science of straining and storing fruits and vegetables for infants.
John Sheehan, a Battle Creek native who held two degrees from this University, is responsible for synthesizing penicillin, an achievement that led to millions of healthier lives.
The names are endless and their contributions profound. These individuals embraced the notion of making a difference with their ideas, even if it meant exposing their flaws and weaknesses along the way. That is the nature of innovation.
In fact, I love Thomas Edison’s philosophy about taking risks. “I have not failed,” he would say. “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Those are the words of an innovator. And our state is ready for – indeed, hungry for – a new generation of inventors, entrepreneurs, risk-takers and economic gamblers.
I believe they are seated before me.
In this hall filled with accomplishment, I want to single out a quartet of students, because they exemplify the climate change our region needs. They are embracing the risks and rewards of being entrepreneurs in an era when knowledge is the coin of the realm.
Adam Ferris is an Angell scholar and a sophomore from Dubai. His academic home is the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, and he is pursuing studies in economics and financial mathematics.
Chris Chan is a freshman from Singapore, and he is studying mechanical engineering. He is also the recipient today of the William J. Branstrom Prize.
Where Adam and Chris come to Ann Arbor from halfway around the world, Gaurang Garg is from Wyandotte, just outside of Detroit. He is a freshman, and is still determining his major; philosophy, German and economics all appeal to him.
Joining these three is Allie Rabman, an Illinois sophomore working toward a BBA in the Ross School of Business.
Despite their disparate geographic and academic backgrounds, these four have a common passion as leaders in the student organization MPowered, whose members want to fuel the entrepreneurial spirit on our campus.
You may have heard about MPowered earlier this year, when it sponsored the 1,000 Pitches competition. This contest challenged students to identify a need or problem and develop a solution, be it for a new form of technology, a non-profit group, an invention, or a business.
The idea – and “idea” is the essential word here – was to generate 1,000 proposals and demonstrate the innovation and creativity of Michigan students.
Being Michigan students, you outdid yourselves and created 1,044 pitches.
As members of MPowered, Adam, Chris, Allie and Gaurang are cultivating this culture at U-M with the hope that it will take root on campus and beyond. And I am behind them 100 percent – we all should be. They advocate that if you have a good idea, whether it is technological or humanitarian, and you act upon that idea, you can make a difference in the community and society. They want to see their ideas and your ideas – the dreams of students – become reality.
In recent years, 10 percent of the students who enroll at U-M do so having already started a business; with last fall’s class, the number climbed to an impressive 15 percent.
Michigan students are not afraid to advance their ideas in hopes of making a difference, and we need that confidence more than ever, as we work to transform our state’s economy.
I again want to quote Thomas Edison: “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”
Your ideas – and your actions – will produce the climate change our society needs.
We are eager for the atmosphere you will create – one that celebrates knowledge and all the creativity it bears. And we congratulate you on your impressive academic achievements as Michigan students.