1. 2016 Spring Commencement Address

    April 30, 2016

    (As prepared for delivery)

    Thank you, Dean Martin for the introduction, and thank you Regents, colleagues, students, supporters, friends and family members for being here today to celebrate the Class of 2016.

    A Michigan degree is a truly remarkable accomplishment. Well done, graduates, and congratulations families and friends! What a terrific day to be a Wolverine!

    I have had the opportunity to meet many of you during our time together at U-M.

    We’ve taken selfies and walked together on the Diag. You asked tough questions and offered great advice during Fireside Chats. You even showed up on my front lawn to tell me how you felt about athletics.

    That was before we hired Coach Harbaugh.

    You’ve shared your inventions, your research projects, and your service in communities throughout Michigan and around the world.

    Together, we’ve helped the people of Flint during the water crisis.

    We’ve celebrated our third consecutive year of leading all public universities in students going overseas as prestigious Fulbright scholars.

    We’ve cheered as our own Coach Carol Hutchins became the all-time winningest softball coach in NCAA history, and some of you joined me at my first bowl game as president (Congrats to team 136).

    We’ve also worked, together, to address the major issues facing our campus – and today, as you graduate, your university is better for it.

    One of the great privileges of being President of the University of Michigan is the opportunity to see the leaders and best in action…

    Helping your fellow students, and those who will follow in your footsteps.

    Holding those of us up here on stage in the funny robes accountable.

    Making U-M a better place, for all.

    Your student body president, Cooper Charlton, is one example. He made mental health services for students a big focus of his work – and he made a difference.

    I saw our students step up again a few weeks ago, when many of you denounced
    the anti-Islam chalkings on our Diag and offered support to your fellow students.

    You made us better by upholding one of the greatest values to which we aspire, and one that I agree with whole-heartedly: Discrimination has no place at the University of Michigan.

    Now, as graduates, you and your families can continue to help us make the U-M a better place for all.

    You can stand up for our university, for this Michigan of ours, to ensure that it forever will remain a place of excellence and impact. And in doing so, you will also be protecting your university, and enhancing the value of your degree, as our reputation for academic excellence and societal impact continues to grow.

    You can tell the U-M story – your story – to your fellow citizens, and engage in public advocacy on behalf of public research universities. Because for their continued success, public universities need public support. A public that understands our value and appreciates the impact we make on society.

    We educate talented students and produce the discoveries and innovations that will drive economic growth and prosperity in our own state and beyond.

    As graduates you seized every opportunity at the U-M, and thus you are uniquely positioned to communicate our value. Nearly half of you have participated in research,
    more than a quarter have studied abroad, and nearly three-quarters have engaged in service to the community.

    One of today’s graduates is about to do all three of those at once.

    Theatre major Meredith Starkman is heading to India to explore the power of artistic activism. With support from a Wallenberg Fellowship, she will work with groups that use music, dance, theatre and the visual arts to help at-risk children, inmates and victims of human trafficking.

    The history of U-M is full of impact that enriches the lives of the public we serve. Impact that is lasting and ubiquitous. You can’t avoid it.

    Those of you posting online comments about today’s ceremony are able to do so because U-M’s Douglas van Houweling led the effort to make the Internet accessible world-wide.

    Those of you ignoring me altogether and listening to music can thank Tony Fadell,
    a U-M graduate who is one of the inventors of the iPod. I will give you bonus points, however, if you’re listening to a book by Susan Orlean, or a play by Arthur Miller – because they are both U-M grads, as well.

    In the world of healthcare, those of you who have had a loved one who was given FluMist – or those who can remember the fear that spread through communities because of polio –can appreciate the faculty researchers in our School of Public Health who made those vaccines possible.

    We are the home of the University Musical Society, this year’s National Medal of the Arts-winning organization, and we now house the papers of the renowned film-maker Orson Welles and the composer George Gershwin.

    Behind these accomplishments are the breadth and depth of academic excellence and a commitment to helping society that are only possible at a public research university.

    Universities like ours have long been the lifeblood of U.S. innovation.

    They conduct the research that precedes inventions like FluMist or conduct the trials that ensure the safety of the Polio vaccine. Collectively, they have set a standard of higher education that is the envy of the world, and they educate 3.8 million students each year.

    But today, America’s public research universities are at a crossroads.

    In states all across our country, long-term disinvestment is threatening public research universities.

    Sadly, many in the public no longer think of us as a common good and prioritize this critical investment in our shared future. You know what this trend has done to tuition.

    Nationwide over the last three decades, state spending on prisons has grown 25 times faster than spending on higher education.

    We have to work hard to help the public and our policymakers understand the value
    of public research universities.

    They are America’s intellectual infrastructure – and they drive economic opportunities for our students, our communities, and our nation.

    So today, as you celebrate your graduation, I hope you will remember the academic resources that helped you get here. Your professors, your internships, the connections you made with industry or service organizations, and the amazing works in our libraries and museums.

    I hope you will tell everyone about your experiences, and help others understand the value to the public of what we do here.

    Michigan’s impact is everywhere you look.

    It’s in the books we read, in the hospitals that heal, and in the schools that educate our children. It’s the way we feel when we hear the voice of James Earl Jones, or experience the Big House for the first time on a Saturday in the Fall.

    It’s also where we dream.

    Our research is the basis for the thrusters that may take humans to Mars, and the technology that will allow our cars to be autonomous and connected.

    Michigan’s impact is thriving in the first three babies whose lives were saved by tracheal stents created by Michigan researchers on a 3-D printer in a Michigan lab. Those babies are now preschoolers, by the way.

    Next year, we will celebrate the bicentennial of the University of Michigan. It will be our 200th birthday. Nowhere else are legacies of excellence and impact like ours measured in centuries.

    The inaugural address of U-M President Harlan Hatcher in 1951 emphasized the crucial role of research universities.

    “Our young people are going out into a complex world,” he said, “which reflects
    this massive extension of knowledge and the resulting complications of managing the world, which has thereby become increasingly interdependent.”

    “The most essential instrument created to serve them in this need is the university. We will rise or fall by its success or failure. It must succeed.”

    Graduating from U-M makes all of you an indispensible part of our impact.

    You are America’s talent, the drivers of its competitiveness, and the next generation
    of its problem solvers and leaders. You are the innovators, healers, activists and artists who will change the world for the better. You can help us extend Michigan’s legacy as a top public research university for another 200 years.

    This is your legacy.

    Class of 2016, you are the leaders and best of today, and the vanguard of a better tomorrow.

    Congratulations, and I wish you all the best,
    as you go discover. Go achieve. Go serve. And Go Blue!