(As prepared for delivery)
Congratulations, University of Michigan graduates!
I join Acting-Provost Dittmar, and our faculty and staff in offering my utmost congratulations to you, graduates of the University of Michigan, as well as to your families and friends, and everyone else who made this day possible.
Class of 2019, today you graduate from a global university.
And you graduate into a society that is, by virtually any measure, global as well.
Those of you on your phones right now are living proof.
All of the posts and photos you’re sending can reach the other side of the world instantaneously.
Ni Hao, Shanghai!
It’s COLD here in Michigan!
But no matter where you are from, globalism and your future are inextricably linked.
And that’s the theme I want to discuss.
Because while your messages today from the Crisler Center have a global reach, from this point forward, as Michigan graduates, so will your influence.
As U.S. Senator William Fulbright said during his U-M Commencement address, Michigan graduates “come from every state in the union and from many foreign countries. [Their] influence in bringing enlightenment to their respective communities, is immeasurable.”
His words from 1948 remain true for all of you – because of the opportunities and challenges we are sure to face in the decades ahead.
All of us live in a world that has been made smaller by the increase in global connectivity.
Air travel, Facetime, social media and the Internet have stripped away the insulation between nations and continents.
The demand is booming for educated graduates who understand different cultures, and for those who can succeed in global markets.
And as graduates, many of you will soon begin careers at companies or organizations that have customers or stakeholders around the globe.
At the same time, the greatest challenges we face don’t care about international borders.
Climate change is global.
Conflicts between nations force refugees to flee their homes and migrate worldwide.
Pandemics don’t stop spreading because the line is too long at Customs.
Those examples barely scratch the surface — but they also provide opportunities to use your education and influence for good.
Then-United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar spoke to this idea, also at a U-M Commencement.
“No country can be harmed by the eradication of hunger,” he said. “All countries will gain from advancing global development. All countries … will gain from a reduction in armaments, especially nuclear arms. All countries require peace. These are goals that transcend purely national interests while in no sense contravening them.”
In that 1986 speech, De Cuellar alluded to perhaps the most important values we must advance as a global university in the modern era.
To fulfill our public mission, we must not shrink from our responsibility to promote global stability and peace.
For all humanity.
Doing so would betray our past, our purpose, our potential and our promise.
To be a great university, we must be global — and we are.
For 14 consecutive years, U-M students have been awarded more Fulbright grants to study and teach abroad than graduates of any other public university in the nation.
The program that bears the name of William Fulbright aims to promote peace and mutual understanding around the world.
We’re also the fourth all-time producer of Peace Corps volunteers since its creation in 1961.
More than 5,500 students have had an international educational or research experience in the most recent academic year.
And global partnerships and curricula are key components of a Michigan education.
These range from overseas internships in our Ross School of Business to our Stamps School of Art and Design being the only such school in the country to require an international experience.
I had the opportunity recently to visit one of these partnerships in India.
Each summer, students from our School of Nursing spend time at rural clinics, schools and NGOs alongside peers from the Salokaya College of Nursing in Dehli. They learn how nursing care is delivered within a very different healthcare infrastructure.
U-M students have worked to prevent sexual assault in Ghana, made e-waste recycling safer for workers in Thailand and Chile, and learned about theater and choral music in South Africa.
Such opportunities are crucial.
For more than 200 years U-M has aspired to address humanity’s greatest challenges, no matter where those challenges are located.
We simply could not fulfill our mission to serve society without focusing our efforts broadly.
At the same time, we are a better university because we attract outstanding students, faculty and staff from other countries.
We embrace America’s status as a nation of immigrants and a beacon for talent.
We cherish our ability to grow intellectually from the nourishment and churn provided by different ideas, perspectives and approaches.
We support faculty who wish to collaborate overseas, and we have many formal partnerships with researchers and universities in key regions around the globe.
We foster lifelong connections with alumni that advance the good we do internationally.
These are all important values that form the foundation of our philosophy as a global university.
The best learning and the best research do not happen through homogenous groups of individuals.
Nor are problems solved in isolation.
To be great, we must remain open.
Barriers that do exist must be porous ones.
National security and competitiveness concerns are real, but our benefits from international engagement are far greater than the risks and these risks can be mitigated by thoughtful policies.
There is also a special dividend that comes along with international collaboration and academic travel— world peace and stability.
Millions of people around the world, many in nations we compete with, were educated in the United States and many Americans have studied abroad.
The knowledge and understanding that comes from living and working with global colleagues results in a safer world.
It’s harder to hate or demonize people that you know and have worked or studied with.
As graduates, you are well-positioned to tackle modern global challenges, because you’ve succeeded in our global environment here at U-M.
You’ve debated issues of national security, navigated changes in immigration policies, and conducted research in an age where information security and intellectual property are increasingly in conflict.
I hope that another lesson you’ve learned here is that strategy grounded in free inquiry, openness and a quest for knowledge is the best way to confront global competition and risk.
And that you can help our nation, and others, work through these challenges.
It’s similar to how we’ve approached research here at U-M.
We aspire to conduct research that benefits the world, and as I mentioned earlier, we set priorities and make investments in partnerships to achieve that aim.
In his speech, Senator Fulbright asserted that America’s status as a world power carried with it a responsibility to act.
He said, “Our power must be used positively and boldly or it will, in time, be dissipated and our opportunity to create a better world will be lost.”
The same is true for Michigan.
We are a powerful university, with powerful graduates and an even more powerful commitment to doing good in the world.
Class of 2019, it’s now your responsibility to exert your influence to bring enlightenment to all of our communities – here and all around the globe.
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.
And Go Blue!