(As prepared for delivery)
Congratulations, graduates! You’ve made it!
And not only you, but your families and supporters have too. They’ve come right alongside.
They celebrated with you when you were accepted here at Michigan… and on the day you did better than you imagined on an exam or paper.
They were also there when it got harder – when a paper or exam came in with an – ahem – unexpected grade, or when you found that your major wasn’t quite what you hoped.
They’ve offered you their unconditional love and support each step of the way.
And they’re here with you again today.
So to the families – to the moms and dads and uncles and aunts, to the grandparents and cousins partners, to the siblings and children and supporters – thank you.
Thank you for sharing your graduates with us. They’re an incredible class. They’ve left an indelible imprint on this university.
Graduates, please join me in thanking your families and supporters for everything they’ve done to make today’s celebration possible. Let’s give them the round of applause they deserve.
Graduates, today was the final time you walked into Crisler Center as students.
When you leave, you will do so as alumni.
You will do so having earned a degree at one of the world’s most prestigious and most influential universities.
And you will do so having shown not only excellence and achievement, but also grit, resiliency, adaptability.
For you will have earned your University of Michigan degree during a period of tremendous stress and uncertainty.
Together, we’ve adapted to changed environments and challenged expectations. We’ve rethought, and reimagined higher education.
Graduates, you’ve remained strong, and found ways to remain connected to each other while facing unexpected challenges and uncertainties.
Many of you have faced even more than a pandemic.
Some of you have had turmoil in your homelands, your loved ones distant and in danger, and on your hearts every day.
Others of you are parents, pursuing your degrees with all of the challenges of raising your children and supporting your families.
Many others of you have taken on jobs to support yourselves. You’ve balanced the demands of work with the commitments of your courses, sometimes sleepless but always relentless in pursuit of your degrees.
In this time of challenge, we’ve come together as a community.
We’ve learned to look to one another and lean on one another for support, for health, for help and for wellbeing.
In that regard, I’m pleased to note that U-M adopted the Okanagan Charter, for guiding the Health Promoting Campses in 2021, while most of you were enrolled.
Throughout this time, each of you has not simply endured, you’ve achieved. You’ve achieved with excellence. You’ve written a new chapter in our proud tradition of being the leaders and best.
I’m so proud of you today.
Before we go forward, I’d like to reflect back for a few moments to the beginning.
For whether you came here as an undergrad, a transfer, or a graduate or professional student, all of you chose to be Wolverines.
So did I!
That choice has led you here today.
And it’s a choice that will guide you for the rest of your life.
For being a Wolverine is far more than the decision of a moment … it is the ambition of a lifetime.
Being a Wolverine is about living by a set of values, excellence, respect, integrity. It is about being committed to diversity, equity and inclusion.
And it is about, no matter the circumstance, constantly aspiring to, and becoming, the leaders and best.
Cornelius Henderson is a great example. In 1906, he enrolled at the University of Michigan to study engineering … and as the lone African American in the entire engineering department.
In his era of de facto and de jure segregation, Henderson was forced to learn largely alone and in isolation. But he wasn’t deterred … he was strengthened.
As one of his professors remarked, Henderson had a much better knowledge of engineering and architecture when he graduated because he, “Had to learn his work without help.”
Henderson graduated in 1911 with a degree in engineering, U-M’s second African American graduate in the field. But despite his degree and his talents, he struggled to find work due to racial discrimination.
Again Henderson wasn’t deterred … he was determined. He connected with a fellow alum, B.K. Bash, who encouraged Henderson to apply to the company where he worked, the Canadian Bridge Company.
Somewhat to his surprise, Henderson was hired by the CBC. And he rose through the ranks, from a draftsman to a structural design engineer. His most noteworthy achievement can be seen today – and many of you have driven across it – he was the chief structural steel engineer for the Canadian side of the Ambassador Bridge.
During his 47-year career, Henderson became a highly respected, highly sought-after civil engineer.
In addition to his work on the Ambassador Bridge, he also contributed to the construction of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, and the Thousand Islands and Quebec Bridges over the Saint Lawrence River.
He worked on engineering projects around the world, on railroads, municipal buildings, factories and residences.
Henderson died in Detroit in 1976, having spent his career as an engineer … and his lifetime as a Wolverine.
There are so many other stories like Henderson’s, whether at our African American Student Project, or at our Alumni Center.
And today, you will begin writing your own stories as alumni.
There’s so much to celebrate.
You have so much to explore, to discover, to experience.
You’ve been educated by the best, and all of us eagerly look forward to your next steps and witnessing your future accomplishments.
We also look for you to join us in addressing the great challenges of our time – injustice, inequity, the climate crisis, and the quest for human dignity.
Yet as you go, you will also face challenges, and moments of loneliness and disappointment and uncertainty.
It is in those low moments, far more than your times on the peaks, that you will need to remember who you are – that you have chosen – and still choose to be, a Michigan Wolverine.
So as you are shortly to receive your well-earned degrees, I urge you: Never forget where you come from. Never forget what you chose to be. And always choose to be a Michigan Wolverine.
And Go Blue!