(As prepared for delivery)
Class of 2018, Congratulations!
I join your professors, family members and friends in expressing my utmost pride as we celebrate your accomplishments as the newest graduates of the University of Michigan.
Graduates, you made it!
Commencement signifies an important new beginning for all of you, but our ceremony today also provides an opportunity for reflection. Many of you started in the Fall of 2014, just a few weeks after I did.
I hope you remember the last four years as fondly as I do. Together we learned that the UGLI was actually an amazing source of beautiful knowledge; how to catch the bus to North Campus; and that the cold wind somehow blows in both directions on Maynard.
We’ve celebrated a Final Four, a Frozen Four, and many of you cheered when I called a snow day in 2015. You impressed me with your inventions and research presentations, and inspired me by spending your Spring Breaks on service projects around our nation and even beyond. Despite more than a few invitations, however, you couldn’t convince me to join you at Rick’s.
Today, when we confer your U-M degrees here at Commencement, we recognize your amazing talent, hard work, and completion of some of the most rigorous academic programs in the world. Your majors and minors have been designed and taught by faculty members who are some of our society’s leading minds.
But as impressive as that is, graduating from the University of Michigan means even more than that.
Because when you arrived on our campus, you joined a very special academic community. It’s an academic community that fosters learning, achievement and growth 24/7 – whether you are in class or not.
Nadine is a fantastic example. She will be going to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, an honor earned on the basis of academic achievements, instincts to lead, and concern for humanity.
Nadine was an intern for Amnesty International, founded a nonprofit to provide books and study spaces to children in communities with need, and studied the biomarkers of head and neck tumors as a research assistant.
All of your U-M activities are indelible components of your Michigan degree. 82 percent of our students participate in student organizations. 54 percent perform community or volunteer service. 29 percent have international experience.
A third of you are entrepreneurs, a tenth earn Work Study aid, and 1,400 of you participate each year in our Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program.
You are military veterans and student-athletes, Fulbright Scholars and Peace Corps volunteers. You are all Michigan graduates.
Kathy Lim is a graduating senior on our women’s golf team, who accepted a job at JP Morgan as a junior. In addition to competing at the highest levels in athletics and majoring in Sports Management, Kathy went to elementary schools to read to students and visited patients and families at Mott Children’s Hospital during her years at U-M.
Your CSG President, Anushka Sarkar, will use the leadership skills and fearlessness she developed here when she joins the global consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington, DC.
We are proud that many of the most wonderful qualities of a Michigan education – and many of those I just mentioned – go beyond your academic transcript. Or as U-M Physics Professor Tim McKay says, the “academic transcript – the infamous permanent record” does not represent your full student experience and accomplishments.
The transcript, he notes, was a document “designed specifically to fit tidily into an envelope,” so that it would meet the needs of record keeping and correspondence in the 1920s.
But today, in a new millennium, we know that graduating from the top public research university in the world means that no single page can capture everything you have accomplished. In fact, Professor McKay is helping us to consider how academic records can better reflect the entire scope of your time here.
The full educational experience at a place like Michigan is irreplaceable, for your own growth and for the betterment of our society.
Class of 2018, today you graduate into an increasingly global society, where the challenges are enormous, and there are no simple answers. You also graduate into a more polarized world, where outrage seems like the new currency and thoughtful engagement is too often an afterthought.
But remember your Michigan experience.
You’ve learned to engage, and solve problems, working alongside people who are different from you. You’ve formulated arguments and drawn conclusions, based on facts and evidence. You’ve demonstrated your advocacy for innumerable worthy causes and showed dedication to your pursuits both inside and outside the classroom.
Zoey Holstrom, a graduating photojournalist for the Michigan Daily, sums up this idea as well.
“From navigating around Ann Arbor to highways across the country,” she writes, “I’ve made irreplaceable friendships and experienced once in a lifetime events. … The Daily has allowed me to pursue my passions and capture the essence of the human condition. I couldn’t imagine my time at Michigan without 420 Maynard.”
This is the beauty of what all of you have accomplished to arrive today at Commencement. Michigan students have the freedom and the opportunity to pursue their deepest passions, both academically and co-curricularly.
I hope that the urge to extend your engagement beyond the curriculum becomes a lifelong habit that takes you beyond the confines of your ultimate job or profession to become an engaged citizen and leader within your community and society at large.
Live your lives embodying the Michigan Difference.
Four years ago, I had the privilege of addressing you at New Student Convocation, my first major student event on the Michigan campus.
What I said then remains true today. I believe we change the world in ways large and small. And that each of us, through our Michigan experience, finds an opportunity to make an impact.
Graduates, I hope you will remember every part of your University of Michigan experience.
Cherish every moment. Push the envelope. And use all that you have learned.
As you Go discover, Go achieve, Go serve, and Go Blue!