Winter Commencement 2009
December 20, 2009
Congratulations to all of you who entered Crisler Arena today as students and who will leave 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, encouraged you, and supported you throughout your academic career.
Let’s take a moment to thank these families – the parents and grandparents, brothers, sisters and spouses who gave our university community such wonderful students. Graduates, surely there were times you felt alone in your college career, but you always had your family and friends. Please join me in giving them the ovation they deserve.
Graduates, you leave here with a University of Michigan education, one that has emphasized collaboration, creativity, and the value of thoughtfully examining problems to develop solutions.
You depart the University with countless memories and lessons – experiences you will carry forward into your graduate studies, your professional careers, and your personal lives as husbands, wives, fathers and mothers. These are memories you will cherish the farther you find yourselves from Ann Arbor.
You will look back on your roommates and see how they became your best friends. You may reflect on days and nights spent studying at the library, or a favorite coffee shop, or a quiet lounge on campus. And you will think back on your professors and the vast knowledge they shared in broadening your perspectives and fueling your desire to learn more.
You will, of course, always have memories of the Diag in the fall; the bell tower reminding you that class is just about to begin; the marching band taking the field at Michigan Stadium; and the genuine pride you always felt when someone asked, “Where do you go to school?” and you answered, “Michigan.”
I also hope your memories include this particular Sunday, your commencement day, not only as the culmination of your academic pursuits at U-M, but as a day when four honored individuals on this stage embodied the values we treasure and promote both in and out of the classroom.
I want there to be a day when you think of Grace Lee Boggs after you see injustice in your community and want to make a difference. Her commitment to bettering the lives of others is one to be emulated. The more you model yourself on her belief that we are all responsible for improving our communities, the more we will see strong, progressive neighborhoods and cities.
She is also amazing testament that age should never limit one’s engagement with the larger world.
Think of Edward O. Wilson and embrace curiosity – pure, unbridled curiosity – because it will take you down paths you never imagined. What for him was a boyhood fascination with bugs evolved into a scientific career that has touched all our lives. Whether you want to explore a new food, a new political belief, or a new culture, your willingness to enter unknown realms will broaden your intellect and make you a more interesting person.
Think of Helen Thomas when you feel those in authority have neglected the true meaning of leadership. There is no shame in healthy skepticism, and you should not hesitate to insist on accountability from our leaders. She never has. Ethical behavior should never be a fad, but rather an inherent trait of any democratic organization, and you are responsible for making democracy real.
And think of Jeff Daniels when you celebrate creativity and the arts, and the joy they bring to our lives. Whether you are finger-painting with your toddler, visiting your local library, or brainstorming ideas for a new business, your engagement in the creative process will add an essential dimension to your world. Mr. Daniels has proven this with the successful theater company he founded in his hometown of Chelsea, and our state is richer for it.
Creativity. Critical thinking. Curiosity. And civic engagement. If we have done our job as faculty and administrators, you understand and appreciate the importance of these values. You know it will take many minds and different perspectives to develop the solutions and cures our world needs. You have learned this through your coursework and research, in your lab experiments, and with the student groups you joined and led.
Carry these values with you today as keepsakes of your Michigan education. They embody the Michigan Difference, that measure of academic excellence that sets our university apart from other institutions, and that defined your education. It is what gives your diploma meaning, and it will serve you well in the next phase of lives we can’t wait to see unfold.
As an alumnus, you will be the Michigan Difference. 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.
For today, goodbye.
For tomorrow, good luck.
And forever, Go Blue!