2023 Spring Commencement

Good morning!

Graduates, congratulations – you’ve made it!

After all the classes, exams, and uncertainties, you’re through!

And not only you, but your families and friends too!

They’ve come right alongside. They’ve been with you at each step.

They celebrated with you on the day you were accepted at Michigan.

When you had difficulties and doubts, they listened to you, they kept their faith in you, and they encouraged you to keep believing, to keep pushing, to keep breaking through.

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 partners, to the friends, thank you.

Thank you for sharing your graduates with us. They’re a fantastic class. We’ll long remember them.

Graduates, please join me in thanking your families and friends for everything they’ve done. Let’s give them a round of applause.

Graduates, this morning was the last time you walked into the Big House as students.

When you leave, you will do so as alumni.

You will depart having earned your degrees at one of the world’s most exceptional and influential universities.

And you have earned it through not only ability and excellence and even brilliance, but by dint of persistence, resilience, and at times, pure grit.

When you came to Ann Arbor four years ago, you knew your lives would be changed.

I suspect you expected an education steeped in tradition and shaped by excellence, one in which you would be challenged by your exceptional professors to become the leaders and best. 

This you have had.

But you have also been tested in unexpected ways – forced by the challenges of COVID-19 to find unexpected reservoirs of adaptability, endurance and resilience.

You have come through that test, even as you’ve overcome so many other exams.

Today is a peak moment to savor, a time to look back at your priceless Michigan memories, and to look ahead to the future you’ve earned.

We’re so proud of your achievement.

We’re so confident in your success.

And we so look forward to seeing how you will shape and transform our world.

But as with your time here, you will have unexpected tests and challenges along the way.

At this moment of commencement, it is easy to imagine your coming careers as decades of priceless vessels, filled with years of service and success at the highest levels.

This you may well achieve.

Yet as clay in the hands of the potter, aspects of your life will likely be made and remade many times, as you are tested and challenged, heated and broken, fired and refined.

We can see a fantastic example of this in the Clay as Soft Power exhibit at our U-M Museum of Art.

The Shigaraki ceramics displayed began as common clay. But shaped in the hands of the potter, fired and refined, they became so much more: Singular and exceptional objects of strength, beauty, and most importantly, service.

Their rough and rustic finishes catalyzed cultural exchanges and fostered artistic and intellectual development. They transformed America’s image of Japan, from wartime enemy to essential ally.

Crafted for utility, today these ceramics are prized for their distinctiveness, their imperfect beauty and their authenticity.

That idea is echoed in the work of the two distinguished artists receiving honorary degrees today, Dominique Morisseau, and Wynton Marsalis.

Their work speaks to the universal human experience, a world of joys, but also challenges.

And when you leave this place, it is certain that you will face unexpected tests and trials, as well as periods of drought and uncertainty.

Yet you are so much more capable, so much more prepared to push through, than when you entered this university.

For the tests you have already overcome, and the unexpected challenges you can expect to face, will be less about subject matter or circumstance than character.

And that is truly the foundation of your education here at Michigan.

Excellence, integrity, resilience, persistence, and adaptability; the commitment to treat others – no matter their background or color or belief – with deep respect and high dignity, these are the values that will sustain you; these are the values that will strengthen you; these are the values that will make you, and remake you, as the leaders and best.

That tempering of your character, far more than any academic achievement, is why I’m so proud of you today, and why I’m so certain of your success in the days ahead.

U-M alumnus Marge Piercy said it well in her poem, To be of use

“… the thing worth doing well done

Has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

Greek amphoras for wine or oil,

Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

But you know they were made to be used.

The pitcher cries for water to carry

And a person for work that is real.” 

Each of you has been tested and tried, you have grown and excelled, you have achieved with integrity and excellence. Now, with your distinct gifts, you are prepared to transform our world.

So today, I hope you will leave this exceptional university with a deep sense of gratitude for the education you have received; with a profound understanding of the great responsibility that comes with this life-changing opportunity; and with a lifelong commitment to leverage your learning in leadership and service.

Congratulations again graduates, and always and forever, Go Blue!