Remarks at Winter Commencement 2010
December 19, 2010
Congratulations to all the students who will leave here today as alumni of the University of Michigan! And thank you to the student performers and speaker for enriching our program with your talents.
Graduates, this is one of the most notable moments in lives that I know will be filled with extraordinary events. But it is just as special a day for your families, who prepared you for Michigan, encouraged you, and supported you.
I’d like all of us to take a moment to thank the parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters who gave our university community such wonderful students.
I hope you and your families feel the University of Michigan has changed you. We continually strive to provide an academic experience unlike any other, and if we have done our jobs well, you are leaving Ann Arbor a different person than when you first arrived.
Education is about transformation, and your college experience is just the start of remarkable changes you will encounter – and initiate – in your lifetime.
The scope and speed of change in today’s world is really quite breathtaking. If you reflect on your days at Michigan, the political, cultural and technological landscape of the world around us has undergone quite a transformation.
Just think … the American economy is far different since your freshmen days, with major organizations such as Northwest Airlines, General Motors and Circuit City either morphing or evaporating.
For some, home ownership has gone from a solid investment to a financial albatross. For others – particularly young people – buying a home is an opportunity they never imagined so early in their careers because of favorable pricing.
In the time you have been students, the words staycation, tweeting and Wikileaks have joined our lexicon.
Remember “Punk’d” and Tony Soprano? Gone. We’ve since said hello to Lady Gaga and “Glee.”
In these few short years we’ve seen the birth of the iPad, the Kindle and Wii. In the same time span, we’ve said goodbye to Kodachrome film, analog television and, in some communities, a daily newspaper.
How fast is technology moving? In the course of one year, sales of compact discs plunged 20 percent, with their one-time popularity falling victim to digital downloads.
And texting – which I suspect some of you are doing right now – texting has exploded. Since your final days of high school, the number of text messages sent a month has grown 2,000 percent.
Change is not only ubiquitous, it also has become breakneck. And as you head into the next chapter in your lives, you will confront more and more transitions, both personally and professionally, as well as in your communities.
You may find your life partner. You may not. You may become a parent and start a family.
You will experience career transitions, highs and lows, and perhaps a total change in the direction of your professional life. Don’t let that scare you, because the new directions may prove to be the best.
Globally, you will live in communities confronting climate change, and how best to develop, use and save energy. Your generation is deeply committed to the wellbeing of our planet, and I am confident you will make the world a more sustainable place.
You will benefit from, and contribute to, advances in medical science. You will witness the power of novel treatments and cures, and watch as new threats to our health emerge.
Again, the pace and magnitude of changes will be immense, transformative, and sometimes a bit overwhelming. As you prepare for this whirlwind, I want to offer some assurance – assurance that some things will never change.
Your Michigan education will always serve you well. Both your professors and your classmates have expanded your viewpoints and your base of knowledge in ways you just now understand, and may understand even better in the years ahead.
Your ability to think critically will always prove invaluable. The dilemmas of the future may prove difficult, but I am confident in your ability to find and create the knowledge necessary for solutions, negotiations and new approaches.
Your commitment to community will always remain strong. Giving back is a Michigan value that has carried generations of alumni. I am so glad you were students during the 50th anniversary celebration of U-M’s historic role in founding the Peace Corps. That pledge of service is emblematic of our campus culture and students’ belief in strengthening communities.
And there will always, always be a global family of Michigan alumni to support you, encourage you and remind you of your time in Ann Arbor. You are joining the largest alumni body in the world, and will be welcomed with open arms from Detroit to Chicago and beyond, from Shanghai to Bangalore.
That sense of welcome applies to Ann Arbor, too. Please come back and tell us of your accomplishments, your dreams, and your memories. We will always want to know how you are changing as a person.
I want to close by singling out a graduate of the Class of ’10 – 1910. His name was Lyman Bryson and he was the class poet. He would leave Michigan to embark on a career bursting with changes.
He earned a graduate degree. He worked for the American Red Cross in the days following the First World War and then joined an anthropology museum. He taught reading, and wrote plays, short stories and books. He was a radio personality and also became one of the first celebrities with a new start-up known as CBS television.
Through all of his career stops, Lyman Bryson advocated the importance of education. One of his most noted observations was the following:
“We are restless because of incessant change, but we would be frightened if change were stopped.”
A century after Lyman Bryson received his Michigan degree, his words ring true for the Class of 2010.
Embrace the tumult of discovery and uncertainty that is tomorrow. Know that your education will be the foundation of your decisions and your achievements. And never hesitate to be a catalyst for change yourself, to continue the Michigan tradition of success, service and leadership.
For today, goodbye.
For tomorrow, good luck.
And forever, Go Blue!