New Student Convocation 2010
September 2, 2010
I want to join in the warm welcomes for the Class of 2014!
More than 30,000 high school seniors from around the world hoped to attend the University of Michigan this fall, and we wanted you – the most accomplished and interesting students among them. This is our night to celebrate the talent, energy and aspirations you bring to the university as our incoming class.
We have so much to show you.
A University of Michigan education is a passport – a ticket to creative thinking, diverse perspectives and unique personalities. Your professors are among the best in the world, and are ready to engage and inspire you. In turn, they expect you to challenge them, because they know – as well as your family and friends do – that you have strong opinions and good ideas. Never hesitate to share them.
Your classmates will be the most interesting people you will come to know. Like you, they bring to our campus a multitude of experiences, beliefs and cultures. They have as much to offer as do your professors.
Where you go with all of this is entirely up to you.
I arrived at college knowing I wanted to be a scientist, and I enrolled in plenty of courses in chemistry, biology and math. But I also loved art, and elected every year to include independent study in metalsmithing and design . I have always valued that experience, because it helps me see the world through a different lens. And that is our aspiration for you as our newest students: that you develop the intellectual skills to see today’s world from different vantage points.
Later this evening you will have the opportunity to join in Artscapade and explore our outstanding Museum of Art, and I hope you do so.
Wander up to the second floor and you will find a gallery filled with prints by the great American artist, James McNeill Whistler. You know him, of course, for the famous painting of his mother. But Whistler was about far more. These remarkable etchings are gateways to new places, and by studying them, your mind will move far beyond the gallery walls.
Look at Whistler’s etchings of life along the River Thames, and your thoughts may divert to British literature, or the biology of water, or the technology of shipping and commerce.
Stare at his sketches of bridges and balconies, and your focus shifts to the beauty of architecture or the mechanics of engineering.
His portrayals of ramshackle houses and beggars in doorways may motivate you to do community service, or to better understand poverty, disease and homelessness. The drawings of cathedral domes may inspire you to study Buddhism, Luther and Calvin, or the infinity of space.
Whistler’s famous etchings of Venice? Now you are consumed by Italy, the Renaissance, and the prospect of studying abroad. His renditions of Amsterdam may have you signing up to learn Dutch.
There are drawings of Whistler’s niece and nephew, which cause you to ponder the psychology of families. Or maybe the children’s clothes strike you, and now you’re focused on costumes, theater, and tickets to a play.
There is a lovely depiction of Whistler’s wife, whom he adored, and you wonder when you will find your life partner, and whether that will happen on campus. I guarantee you will make friends for life here.
Lastly there is Whistler’s self-portrait. Now you are wondering how others view you. How will the person sitting here tonight change over the upcoming months and years? Will your parents see a different son or daughter? How will you see yourself?
College is about ideas and viewpoints and questions, and the myriad directions they take your mind. A Michigan education is about the firing of synapses and the connections you make – in the classroom, the coffee shop, the library, and the lab. It is about endless opportunities and countless possibilities.
As you walk out of the museum later tonight, look over your shoulder and you will see the words, “Alumni Memorial Hall” carved into the building’s façade.
Hundreds of thousands have embarked on this academic journey we call the Michigan Difference. Michigan students through the generations have come to campus full of enthusiasm, apprehension, confidence and questions. Some have famous names, such as Gerald Ford, Gilda Radner, James Earl Jones and Clarence Darrow. Others have famous accomplishments, such as the iPod, Google, JetBlue and “The Polar Express.”
All are part of the Michigan heritage you are about to experience. We are known for our learning communities, our research programs for undergraduates, and intimate seminars for first-year students. We are proud of our commitment to public service. And we celebrate our remarkable students – students like you, who are ready to explore, explain, and change the world.
Welcome to Michigan, and Go Blue!