As prepared for delivery
Class of 2019, 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 did it!
Each one of you earned a place here – and you made the most of it.
I know that for many of you, the road to get here was not easy. Perhaps you traversed some potholes along the way.
I have it on the highest authority, however, that these potholes are about to be filled, and the roads are going to get fixed …
But for those of you who are first-generation students, military veterans, or from communities, cities and towns that don’t send many students to Michigan – I hope you are especially relishing this day.
As members of the Class of 2019, all of you have conquered the rigors of our curricula.
You exceled in your studies, your research, your advocacy and your service. You found ways to navigate central campus, when we decided to renovate the LS&A building and the Union at the same time. And you even survived a polar vortex – with not one, but TWO, days of canceled classes.
Since we are here, you must have used that time to study.
We live in an era of accelerating change where often as a society and as individuals we seem to be struggling to keep up.
Graduation is all about change. And at Michigan that means it’s not only about the change in you, it’s about the changes you will contribute to in society.
In the fall of 2015, when many of you started as undergraduates here at Michigan, our world was a different place.
Me Too was not yet a hashtag. The event horizon of a black hole had never been imaged. And midterm voter turnout on university campuses across the country was just 19 percent.
Each of these examples, in their own way, demonstrates the often long and difficult path to change.
The Me Too Movement was founded in 2006 by activist and sexual assault survivor Tarana Burke. Burke wanted to provide a place for survivors to tell their stories, for empathy, and for healing.
She spent more than a decade persevering and advocating on the behalf of those whose stories are marginalized, or not told at all. Then the idea she started went viral, transforming into global conversation and, we must hope, change.
The image of the black hole event horizon presented last month required two years of computer analysis, data from 8 observatories on three continents, and a team of 200 scientists, which included 2011 U-M Electrical Engineering graduate Katie Bouman.
We have now seen what had previously been described as un-seeable, and pushed the frontiers of knowledge to the darkest regions of the universe.
And during the 2018 midterm election, Tufts University reports that youth turnout increased in every state for which they have data. In 27 states, it rose by double digits.
Plus, precincts that serve Big Ten campuses saw their turnout increase by an average of 24 percentage points. This is more than double the increase in nearby areas, indicating that students made their voice heard. Higher turnout was a goal of the Big Ten Voting Challenge. Well done!
Choosing to commit to the work needed to make change, and see it through, can produce amazing results – but it can also frustrate.
Change doesn’t happen in a straight line. It’s messy. It can take years, or even decades.
But when it is founded on principled dedication, collaboration, and hope – all the ingredients are in place.
Our campus has wonderful examples.
Last month we opened our Trotter Multicultural Center on State Street. This inspirational new home devoted to unity, peace and understanding brings together people from all backgrounds, in a building planned and designed in collaboration with students.
It was an historic change for our campus — and it was made possible by a legacy of student activism. Members of our Black Student Union, past and present, shared their experiences on our campus and their aspirations for a better Michigan. Some are even graduating today.
They mobilized their fellow students and called on, and worked with, the university to create the new Trotter.
And while our work to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion is far from finished, the University of Michigan is changed for the better.
Another member of the Class of 2019 used the power of journalism to create change.
In March of 2016, Kevin Sweitzer wrote an editorial in the Michigan Daily criticizing the name of a house in our West Quad residence hall. Winchell House had been named after a 19th century U-M professor, whose published work supported white supremacy.
In 2017, Kevin submitted a formal request under the process we established to reconsider the names of university spaces. After a review by our prominent committee of historians, humanists, and many other experts, we removed the Winchell name.
Kevin is graduating today, from a university changed for the better.
CSG President Daniel Greene, who also graduates today, spent much of his time in office advocating for greater affordability, food security, mental health services, and diversity.
The results produced by CSG this year include a housing survey, the expansion of a food pantry for students in need, greater mental health awareness, and a plan to help student organizations achieve their full potential.
As Daniel goes on to Teach for America, he leaves a university that is changed for the better.
The changes you have seen on campus and around the globe also provide a roadmap that can serve as a guide to the changes you can create in society.
Purposefully contributing to change requires courage, trust, and the willingness to listen and consider many voices. It works best when trust is built by finding common ground, and when we reject the view that it is “us versus them” — that there must be winners and losers.
This is how we can overcome the erosion of trust and begin to collaborate to work through differences.
It takes courage to open ourselves up to opinions and interpretations we don’t agree with. But it’s also how we learn, sharpen our own arguments, and hone our ability to persuade others.
Your time at Michigan has provided a wonderful proving ground to develop your ability to create change. Where else can you seek solutions among such talented scholars, all pursuing knowledge and understanding to advance a quintessentially public mission?
U-M is a place where data and evidence matter, where all voices can be heard, and where talented and hard-working students emerge as leaders and best.
Our passion for change is why we are the nation’s No. 1 public research university.
It’s why the discovery process has been a foundational centerpiece of our Michigan DNA for more than 200 years.
It’s why we strive, always, to extend our impact beyond the borders of our campus – to the communities we serve, and to the frontiers of human knowledge that now span galaxies.
It’s why I hope you are asking, on the day of your graduation, what you can change next.
The challenges we face as a society are numerous and complex – from climate change to poverty to conflict between nations.
But these and many other challenges can unite us as we strive for change – if we choose the path of courage.
Listen to different views.
Trust one another.
Find common ground.
And commit to the discussions and the discoveries that can produce a better world.
Class of 2019, our society is yours to change.
Seek out new evidence, develop new methods, and consider many points of view.
And choose the path that will make ours a better world – as you Go discover, Go achieve, Go serve, and Go Blue!
It’s now my pleasure to introduce Yvonne Navarrete, a graduate of our Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.