2023 Winter Commencement

(As prepared for delivery)

Good afternoon!

Congratulations graduates! You’ve made it – you’re finally through!

After the endless hours of study, the presentations, the papers and the projects and the exams, your persistence, your excellence, is now crowned with success.

I’m so proud of you.

And not only you, but your families, your friends, your loved ones too.

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 parents and the partners and the friends, thank you.

Thank you for sharing your graduates with us. They’re an incredible class. We’re so grateful for the time we’ve shared together at the University of Michigan.

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

Graduates, today was the final time you strode into the Crisler Center 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.

You will have earned them not only through ability and excellence, but through adaptability, resilience and persistence.

Over the past years, you have been tested and tried, forged and formed.

You’ve engaged in an education steeped in tradition and shaped by excellence, and you’ve been challenged by the exceptional members of our faculty to become the leaders and best.

You’ve also been tested in unexpected ways – from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic to the campus controversies of today.

At each step, you’ve not only endured, you’ve overcome. You have achieved with integrity and excellence.

We’re so proud of you today.

We’re so confident of your success.

Yet I’m sure for many of you, the unspoken question of the day is, “What happens next?”

I would counsel, as our three honorary degree recipients have so well done, to seek beauty, to create connection, and to find meaning.

Poet Robert Hass – a Pulitzer Prize-winner and former poet laureate of the United States – teaches us to see the world with an artist’s eye, to see the beauty and the glory in the extraordinary as well as the ordinary. Through him we perceive the simple, sublime beauty of the Apple Trees at Olema and the morning in Early April.

Astrophysicist Dr. Thomas ZurbuchenDr. Z. – is a professor and the director of Space Activities at ETH and NASA’s longest-serving science chief, as well as a former professor of space science and engineering at our College of Engineering and founding director of our Center for Entrepreneurship.

Through the 37 missions that NASA launched under his leadership – and the 54 more that were initiated – Dr. Z. has shown us the beauty of exploration, the thrill of discovery and the exquisite mystery of the unknown. Just one of those, the James Webb Space Telescope, has forever changed our view of the cosmos, illuminating the darkness, revealing the mystery and the beauty.

Yet exploration and discovery are as much efforts of individuality as they are of community.

The building of the James Webb Space Telescope engaged some 1,200 scientists, engineers and technicians from 14 different countries and more than 27 states.

Connections are as essential to creating new science as they are to weaving the fabric of our lives.

The work of Robert Hass celebrates the importance of connection, of relationship and community, in all the challenges and joys of our days. He also emphasizes our deep connection to the natural world and our environment, whether through his collections like the Sun Under Wood, or poems of being On the Coast Near Sausalito and The Beginning of September.

Our commencement speaker David Brooks has thought deeply, and written extensively, on the essential value of connection and community.

As he observed in his book, The Second Mountain, “Life is not a solitary journey. It is building a home together. It is a process of being formed by attachments and then forming attachments in turn. It is a great chain of generations passing down gifts to one another.”

It is through those connections, through our values and our service, that we find meaning.

Meaning outshines fame, it outlasts achievement, it out-distances bliss.

For meaning is not who we are in a moment, but rather who we can be, and who we aspire to be, for a lifetime.

That is truly what I hope you will discover in the days ahead, yes, a life of success and achievement, but even more, a life of meaning.

In his most recent book, How to Know a Person, David Brooks declared, “The greatest thing a person does is to take the lessons of life, the hard knocks of life, and the mundane realities of life and refine their own consciousness so that they can gradually come to see the world with more understanding, more wisdom, more humanity, and more grace.”

So seek beauty … create connection … and above all, find meaning.

When these you achieve, you will truly be Wolverines, and you will have built a life that exceeds your dreams.

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