Spring Commencement 2010
May 1, 2010
Congratulations to a class of graduates so exceptional we had to show you off to the president of the United States!
President Obama, welcome to the Big House! We cannot think of a greater compliment to the Class of 2010 than for you to address them on their final day.
We are equally honored by the presence of Governor Granholm and our distinguished honorary degree recipients.
With all these luminaries, the most special guests in the stadium are the families of our students. The moms and dads, the grandparents, siblings and spouses – all of you have provided invaluable support through the years. Graduates, please join me in thanking your families for everything they have done for you.
Doing for others is a distinctive hallmark of the University of Michigan experience. Ours is a university whose students have long believed in the value of service and engagement, and that goodwill can and does change our communities for the better.
This is a university where students heard the words of John F. Kennedy in 1960 and stepped forward to make his vision of the Peace Corps a global reality. For 50 years, we have been a national leader in sending graduates around the world for work that President Kennedy said, “will not be easy, but it will be rich and satisfying.”
This is a campus that is the No. 1 contributor to Teach for America, with graduates taking the lessons learned here in Ann Arbor to the most challenged school districts in our country.
And this is a class of graduates who in the past four years have worked to rebuild Haiti, support military veterans, collect surplus medical supplies for those without, and safeguard our natural environment.
Four out of five graduates have taken part in community service. Some of you today are wearing red cords that recognize the depth of your engagement. Michigan students have stepped forward to give more than 35,000 days in service – in one year.
Mr. President, this has placed the University of Michigan on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with distinction. But we can, and will, do more, and pledge to increase our numbers.
Graduates, your community service is praiseworthy and important. It should also be unrelenting. Civic engagement is the foundation of a vibrant, prosperous society, and more than ever, as our neighbors and communities work through this economic downturn, your contributions matter.
The 19th century author and clergyman Edward Everett Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
I can do something. An earlier graduate of this university, Raoul Wallenberg, toiled in the dark days of World War II to rescue Jews from the death camps. He was only one, and he saved thousands.
I can do something. Another graduate, Gerald Ford, felt his greatest impact would come through public service. For 24 years he represented the people of Michigan in Congress and then, as president, led our country out of a constitutional crisis with his integrity. He was only one, and our democracy persevered.
I can do something. Eight of your classmates graduate today having spent months immersed in the Semester in Detroit program, working to better our state’s largest, and most challenged, community. They left Ann Arbor to teach young people, create bike paths and walkways, advance economic justice, and turn blight into beauty. One semester brought many changes and, as often happens after a semester in Detroit, these new graduates are staying on to contribute more.
I can do something. Our 44th president knows firsthand the challenges and rewards of working in neighborhoods and striving to rebuild communities. As he has told us, service is how we will meet the challenges of our time – and there are many. Answering this call to serve makes us stronger, more productive, and more compassionate.
Eighteen months ago, many of you voted in your first presidential election, and you worked hard for your candidates. We expect nothing less from a campus that gave birth to both the College Republicans and Students for a Democratic Society.
Mr. President, you should know that on Election Night, thousands of Michigan students flooded the campus to celebrate your election. It was a spontaneous, spirited outpouring unlike anything we have seen for some time in Ann Arbor.
Graduates, remember that surge of emotion. Remember the joy of running through the streets. Remember being part of something bigger than yourself.
That is the feeling of making a difference. Take it with you, share it freely, and transform our world with your ideas, your actions, and your service to others. Like your predecessors, you will make us proud. And like your predecessors, you will serve to inspire the next generation of Michigan graduates.
For today, goodbye.
For tomorrow, good luck.
And forever, Go Blue!