Speakers encourage class of 2011 to embrace roles as leaders and best
A common theme rang through the various remarks at the U-M Spring Commencement celebration Saturday: the imperative for graduates to take the skills and experiences gained from their years at the university to become leaders who will change their communities and the world.
Gov. Rick Snyder — who earned three degrees at U-M — urged graduates to do the right thing and make Michigan a better place.
"Some may have a mission today, others may not for years," said Snyder, who also received an honorary Doctor of Laws during the ceremony at Michigan Stadium. "There's no right or wrong answer."
"If you are a leader and have a mission … give your best and you will be a stalwart among leaders and best."
Snyder said the determination that got him into U-M at age 16 is the same drive that pushes U-M students to excel.
"We're a university of explorers," Snyder said. "The definition of explore is to travel into unfamiliar regions for scientific purposes. No one can match the University of Michigan and its sense of exploration that brought us here."
Earlier in the ceremony, President Mary Sue Coleman congratulated the graduates for navigating "one of the most academically challenging universities in the world."
"We are serious about creating thoughtful leaders. Our world needs strong, decisive individuals – individuals who listen, who gather and respect different ideas, and who act boldly based on an informed point of view," Coleman said.
"This is no time for wavering, but rather for people willing to stand up for their beliefs and ideas. People unafraid to challenge the status quo. People eager to take risks, because big risks can deliver big rewards."
As an example of leadership, Coleman spoke of Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong, who faced criticism and bullying as the student body's first openly gay leader. "He continued to hold his head high — as student body president and as a Michigan student — and to speak out for equality, tolerance and compassion," she said.
She also pointed out the accomplishments of the honorary degree recipients: Snyder; Vernon J. Ehlers, former U.S. congressman and physicist, Doctor of Laws; William Clay Ford Jr., executive chairman of the board of directors, Ford Motor Co., Doctor of Laws; Shelton "Spike" Lee, film director, producer and writer, Doctor of Fine Arts; Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, Doctor of Humane Letters; and Stephen M. Ross, chairman, CEO and managing partner, The Related Companies, L.P., Doctor of Laws.
"I suspect each of these honorees has had moments of doubt," Coleman said.
"Being willing to make a difference means encountering resistance, criticism and, sometimes, anger. But real leaders push forward, confident in their ideas and their actions," she told the graduating class.
Provost Phil Hanlon noted the various achievements by graduating students — from working on the solar car to performing in poetry slams — and said these activities enriched their learning and created lasting friendships.
"Now you're moving on, you're commencing the next phase of your life," Hanlon said.
"We are confident, and you should be confident, that you will succeed in the face of challenges that the world throws against you," he said. "Go forward, grapple with the world's great problems and pursue the world's great opportunities. And while you do so, always keep the University of Michigan close at hand."
Student speaker Jillian Joan Garment Rothman offered a lesson from the life of Raoul Wallenberg, a 1935 graduate of the College of Architecture who used his U-M architecture skills to save the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews near the end of World War II.
While at U-M, Wallenberg designed a facility that could house 4,500 people in just 16 city blocks, Rothman said. Years later, in wartime Budapest, Wallenberg used this lesson to build "safe houses" that hid 35,000 Jews in an area originally built for just 5,000.
"He took one lesson from the University of Michigan, and applied it to the real world," said Rothman, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree and will enter the Law School as a Wolverine Scholar in the fall. "We can do the same thing, and make a difference."
Susan Yang of Northville, who had a broken ankle to thank for sideline seats, earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry.
"It's great to have my parents, family and friends here to see my accomplishments," said Yang, who plans to enter the Medical School this fall.
"I'm glad for all the people I met and the classes I took. It all helped prepare me for my future."
Ludwik Lembryk already has his eyes fixed on the future. "This is a day to go on to my next endeavor: a master's degree in physics," said the Jackson resident, who earned a bachelor's degree in physics and astronomy.
Coleman offered the Class of 2011 parting words of advice: "Do this — think critically, be tolerant, believe in your convictions — and you will be seen as a leader. Strive to be a catalyst for change, to continue the Michigan tradition of success, service and leadership, and you will be known as the best."