(As prepared for delivery)
I offer my most enthusiastic congratulations to U-M’s newest graduates, as well as to their families and friends, professors and teachers, and everyone else who made this day possible.
I thank you all for joining us for this celebration of achievement.
A Michigan degree is a truly outstanding accomplishment.
Well done, Class of 2016!
It is also a personal honor to share the stage with today’s honorary degree recipients. Like the University of Michigan itself, each of these honorees has had an extraordinary impact on society.
Ronald Carter’s childhood in Southeast Michigan influences his teaching and appreciation of music and he has gone on to shape jazz itself.
Alumna Maxine Frankel has strengthened numerous connections between education and the arts that are essential to our humanity.
Julio Frenk’s grandparents fled Nazi Germany for Mexico in the 1930s, and after graduating from U-M, he became Mexico’s Minister of Health, Dean of Harvard’s School of Public Health, and now President of the University of Miami.
U-M graduate Michael Johns has helped to reshape how the results of scientific research are translated into improved patient care at some of our nation’s leading academic medical centers.
We will hear more about them later in the ceremony, but our world is a more joyous and healthy place because of their contributions.
Class of 2016, today we are celebrating your amazing transition from University of Michigan students to University of Michigan graduates.
And while Commencement is always a time to celebrate our graduates, this year the remarkable confluence of national and university events heightens the importance of your transition.
Here at the U-M, we are less than two weeks away from the beginning of our Bicentennial.
This means that you are the final graduating class of the second century of our great University as we transition to our third. Few institutions can claim a legacy as historic, proud and impactful as ours – and now yours!
At the national level, we are approaching a significant transition as well. We are a month away from the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States.
I believe that each of these transitions – for our nation, for our university, and for you as graduates – presents a chance to set the tone for the years ahead.
To reveal our character and commitment to moving forward as individuals and collectively, in search of a bright future, to take what we have learned and apply it to a new stage in life.
As President John F. Kennedy said during a 1963 address at Vanderbilt University: “We live in an age of movement and change, both evolutionary and revolutionary, both good and evil – and in such an age, a university has a special obligation to hold fast to the best of the past and move fast to the best of the future.”
For nearly 200 years, the members of our University community – the faculty, students, staff and alumni of the University of Michigan – have striven to make sense out of complexity and to achieve greater understanding.
To embrace our mission to “challenge the future,” as Provost Pollack mentioned. To create, to discover, to teach and to learn. Often all at once, and sometimes with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.
Here at U-M, we are using the transition to our third century to explore the future of higher education, and to evaluate what we can be doing to better serve the people of our state, nation and world.
These examinations are taking place both in conjunction with our Bicentennial celebration next year, and through new campus-wide initiatives like the Humanities Collaboratory and the Academic Innovation Initiative.
For us, the transition is a vital opportunity for honest discussions about the challenges we face and how our university should evolve in the years ahead.
How can we best use technology in service of our mission? How do we maximize the precious qualities of the residential experience? How do we assure that a Michigan education remains within reach of talented and hard-working students from all parts of society? What will it take to develop leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future through our next century?
I know from speaking with many of you that you are weighing analogous choices about your own futures – aspirations for your careers, academic pursuits, relationships and families – along with the obstacles you face and the areas in which your goals may conflict with one another.
I urge you to think hard about your future every step along the way, and to discuss the choices ahead with your friends and family. Be open to people you care about disagreeing with you, but take care to discuss even emotionally charged disagreements with an open mind and with mutual respect.
You brought with you to campus a passion for learning and achievement, and the curiosity needed to confront the unknown.
While here, you further developed and exercised those gifts. You learned to appreciate the ambiguities in life and better understand the experiences of others.
Enriched by your time here at Michigan, we are confident you will make the transition to leaders and citizens with the tools and spirit to embrace opportunity and help make the world we share a better place.
For inspiration on managing difficult transitions, we need look no farther than the experiences of the first and only person to serve as both President and Vice President of the United States without being elected to either office.
U-M alumnus and U.S. President Gerald Ford took office after the impeachment (proceedings) and resignation of former President Nixon.
After his later defeat in the 1976 election, President Ford praised our nation’s ability to peacefully change administrations.
“I can recall many orderly transitions of governmental responsibility – of problems as well as of position, of burdens as well as of power,” he said. “The genius of the American system is that we do this so naturally and so normally.”
1976 was the first presidential election I voted in, and I remember well the major campaign issues: The divisiveness of the recently concluded Vietnam War. The aftermath of Watergate and Ford’s pardon of Nixon. And the consequences of economic stagnation.
Yet the transition to Jimmy Carter honored the 200-year-old democracy America celebrated in 1976. It held sacrosanct the distinction that differences in party are not more important than the shared love of our country.
Speaking about the transition before leaving office, Ford shared his rationale: “I wanted the new President to get off on an easier start than I had.”
Parents everywhere have a similar wish for their children across the transition represented by graduation.
We want you to have a better life than we did. We want you to have more chances to succeed, to solve the problems we couldn’t, to challenge the future.
Because throughout our nearly 200 years as a public institution, our graduates have sought out that responsibility to society, as the leaders and best.
If history is any indication, many of you will be in positions to influence our world, whether by shaping our third century here at the U-M, exposing school children to the arts like Maxine Frankel, or devising Mexico’s national strategy to confront AIDS, like Julio Frenk.
As President Kennedy said that day at Vanderbilt, “a special burden rests on the educated men and women of our country to … be a participant and not a spectator.”
Class of 2016, there are transitions all around us.
You have done what it takes to graduate from the University of Michigan.
It’s now time for you to embrace your transition from student to active participant –to guide us through the next century to a better future.
Graduates, 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!