2010 Honors Convocation
March 21, 2010
This afternoon’s program has been a marvelous display of the intellectual diversity of the University of Michigan.
The students we have honored today actually honor us with their love of learning. You have impressed us since submitting that first essay in your application to the University, and you continue to amaze us with your academic accomplishments.
And 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 enhances that learning experience for our students.
I also want to recognize the parents and family members who are with us, because they are the source of love and encouragement that makes today’s celebration possible. No one is prouder of these students than their families. Please join me in giving them the recognition they deserve.
Imagine it is early morning, still dark out, and a crazy dream is tearing through your brain as you sleep.
Your mind is under siege, bombarded by information and data both significant and trivial. You are encountering biographies, bar charts, advertisements and video clips. Chemistry theorems, pictures of babies and dogs, batting averages and Einstein’s theories fly by, as does music ranging from Vivaldi to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Most people would wake up, ask, “What on earth was that all about?” and go back to sleep.
If you were Larry Page, you woke up and said, “I’m going to make sense of all this.”
This cabinet of wonders he dreamed about was the Internet, and he was determined to develop a way for people to efficiently navigate all of its 24 million pages. The reality of his vision was Google, the work of a former U-M honors student who built a revolutionary company that has changed how the world accesses information.
Dreams can be scary, or they can be motivating. You can pull the covers up over your head, or you can throw open the curtains and have at it.
At the University of Michigan, we choose to see our dreams – good or bad – as inspirations, and turn those dreams into solutions, cures, and new knowledge.
A great university, with students of your caliber and faculty who are the best in their discipline, does not shut its eyes in the face of nightmarish problems. We have made it our mission to serve society by attacking those problems, and do so through critical thinking, path-breaking research, creativity and innovation.
There is no shortage of dilemmas for us to pursue.
That is why we as a University community are embarking on bold initiatives such as our North Campus Research Complex. Here, faculty and students of diverse disciplines will come together to explore and explain such complicated issues as health and disease, global pandemics, and climate change and sustainability. The NCRC will be a proving ground for solutions.
We are committed to elevating our state as a region of innovative technologies, advanced manufacturing, and a workforce equipped with critical thinking skills necessary for this century. We are placing more emphasis than ever on moving our discoveries into the marketplace, on supporting start-up companies created by faculty and students, and on partnering with private business to kickstart the economy.
We are passionate about the power and promise of medicine and all it means for our society, from the intricacies of chemistry and biology to the expanse of medical education, patient care, and health insurance.
As honors students, you understand difficult situations. You do not achieve honors status without being challenged by the rigors of a University of Michigan education. You take the most demanding courses, you spend that extra weekend in the library, and you step forward to engage with, and challenge, your professors.
And you excel at meeting challenges beyond the classroom. You work in student government, as peer mentors, as resident advisors, as interns, and as volunteers, both here in Ann Arbor and in communities around the globe.
What you do not do is close your eyes and let it all pass by.
Thomas Edison said: “The value of an idea lies in the using of it.” Larry Page didn’t just build a search engine, he designed a smart, functional search engine unlike any other.
As honors students, you are undaunted by a world with challenges that can seem like, well, a bad dream. Rather, you will work toward sustainable technologies, life-saving treatments, new expressions of art and music, and public policies to improve our schools and communities.
Victor Hugo once wrote, “There is nothing like dream to create the future. Utopia today, flesh and blood tomorrow.”
We often tell young people to follow their dreams. More importantly, act on those dreams. Turn bad into good, and good into great. Your ideas – and your actions – will produce the change our society needs. And that will be a dream come true for all of us.
Congratulations again on your impressive academic achievements, and all you do to strengthen our university.