101st Honors Convocation

Due to disruption by protesters, the Honors Convocation ended early. These are President Ono’s remarks as prepared for delivery

It is a pleasure and honor to be with all of you this afternoon.

I’d like to thank our student speaker and our musicians – they’ve been fantastic!

I’d also like to thank the members of our faculty, staff and leadership team who have joined us today. It is so much more to your credit than mine that we are such an exceptional university.

So thank you.

This is the 101st year that our most outstanding students have gathered in this extraordinary hall, to be celebrated as the University of Michigan’s leaders and best.

It’s a fitting venue to honor your achievement.

For honors students, you have been invited here today in tribute to your brilliance, but even more, your determination and your perseverance, your relentless commitment to excellence.

It is through all of those qualities that you have risen, you have lifted, you have soared!

So let’s join together in applauding the honor you have so well earned.

Yet none of you here have done it alone.

Each of you has had a community of connection – of encouragement and excellence – of families and friends, parents and partners, professors and mentors.

Let’s honor them as well.

As we celebrate your achievements, we are also reflecting on who we are, where we have been, and how we can rise together as an exceptional public university.

It’s an appropriate forum to do so.

And so to begin, what do we mean by our theme, “Rise Above”?

At its simplest, rising is an action – an action of aspiration, of dedication, of patience and ultimately of impact.

To rise is to live in the moment, but also to see something more – an opportunity, a possibility, a dream – and then to use all of our talents to reach and achieve. It’s fitting in that sense that the rise of a river is its source, its wellspring, from which action and achievement flow.

Each of you is here because you have chosen to act, and act with excellence.

But rising is also an act of dedication, of persistence, of determination.

To rise is to recognize that for achievements to be gained, short-term pleasures may need to be left behind. Each of you is also here because you’ve sacrificed, because instead of going out on days or evenings, you’ve stayed with it, pushing through the grind.

You have also shown determination in facing unexpected challenges and resistance. These moments are often difficult.

But remember that for pilots, turning into the wind is one of the keys to lift.

To rise above is to also act with patience, to achieve with excellence even in times of uncertainty.

We can see that here in Ann Arbor and along the Huron River, where hawks and even eagles can be spotted soaring, surfing the wind, observing with a keen eye, and patiently waiting for the right opportunity, the moment of maximum impact to strike.

This is why rising above is so important – it is not simply an action of gaining altitude or accolades, but a means of strengthening and maximizing our impact.

I’ll say more about that in a few moments. 

For rising above is more than an action, it is an attitude – an attitude of humility and respect, of resilience and innovation, and of service and leadership.

As honors students, you have had an attitude of humility, a willingness to listen and learn from others, whether they are your professors or your parents or your friends.

It is said that, “Pride leads to destruction [but] humility leads to honor.”

That’s true for all of us, and sustaining honor and excellence requires a constant attitude of humility, a continued commitment to searching, discovering and learning.

Rising is also an attitude of respect, of seeing the distinct, ineffable potential in each person, no matter their background, color or belief.

It is celebrating the exceptional qualities of each person, of the amazing and unique gifts they can offer to our community.

And it is committing to listen with empathy, to walk together in humility, and to treat each individual with respect and dignity.

As we rise, we will also face challenges, turbulent winds, and unexpected dips and dives. That’s what makes an attitude of resilience and innovation so essential.

Canadian-born astronaut Chris Hadfield said it well in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, so I’ll quote him at length:

“In space flight, ‘attitude’ refers to orientation: which direction your vehicle is pointing relative to the Sun, Earth and other spacecraft. If you lose control of your attitude, two things happen:

the vehicle starts to tumble and spin, disorienting everyone on board, and it also strays from its course, which, if you’re short on time or fuel, could mean the difference between life and death

… We never want to lose attitude, since maintaining attitude is fundamental to success.

In my experience, something similar is true on Earth. Ultimately, I don’t determine whether I arrive at the desired professional destination. Too many variables are out of my control. There’s really just one thing I can control: my attitude during the journey ….. So I consciously monitor and correct, if necessary, because losing attitude would be far worse than not achieving my goal.”

Lastly, rising above is an attitude of service and leadership.

While your academic accolades are so important, we truly rise so that we can serve others, so that we can have an impact on our university and community, our nation and our world.

For rising at this exceptional university brings with it the profound responsibility to also elevate others, to encourage and support and lift, so that they too can serve, lead and soar.

We can see that with the geese that fly over Ann Arbor in their V’s. It’s a formation that reduces wind resistance and conserves energy. It also may assist in communication and coordination within the group, strengthening connectivity and unity.

Most of all, with the action and attitude of rising above comes a commitment – a commitment to ourselves, to learn, grow and achieve – as well as a commitment to others, to encourage and empower, to serve and lead.

Finally, rising above is a commitment, a commitment to learning and aspiring and dreaming and achieving, not simply for a class or a semester or an academic year, but rather for a lifetime.

So let’s go forward together, recommitted to listening and serving with humility, to achieving with excellence and honor, and to always being ready to rise.

Thank you again, and Go Blue!