Speakers encourage class of 2012 to take risks, embrace creativity
Amid blustery skies and temperatures that hovered in the low 40s, graduates at the Spring Commencement celebration Saturday began the next stages of their lives with warm words of encouragement from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a U-M alumnus, CNN medical correspondent and neurosurgeon.
Gupta, who received his bachelor's and medical degrees from U-M and also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree Saturday, offered the graduates 10 lessons that included respecting their elders, starting each day with a sense of purpose, not worrying too much about the future and keeping lifelong friendships a top priority.
And, when summarizing their lives, he said, they should be able to write this sentence: "I am who I always wanted to be."
He also urged graduates to take a moment to look around and take in all that it means to be a Wolverine.
"It's a Michigan tradition to take risks and, in the process, blaze new trails," Gupta told the crowd, estimated at 45,000. "It's a Michigan tradition to always read the directions, but not always to follow them. It's to always prepare but sometimes throw that preparation in the trash and allow yourself to be surprised, honest and genuine. It's a Michigan tradition to make history and change the world — to be immortal, not as in living forever but in never being forgotten."
And he urged them to "do one thing every day that scares you."
"I think being scared is good. And I think the corollary is also true: Never being scared is bad," he said. "I'm talking about savoring it when someone tells you, 'No, it can't be done.' Because you know deep down you now have an opportunity to do the impossible."
Earlier in the ceremony, President Mary Sue Coleman urged the graduates to let their creativity carry them to new heights.
"Michigan alumni innovate and Michigan alumni lead. Graduates of the University of Michigan have stood on the moon, won Pulitzer Prizes, graced the stages of Broadway and occupied the Oval Office," she said. "They have set a very high bar, knowing you will surpass them."
Coleman also recounted the achievements of Gupta and this year's other honorary degree recipients: J. Ira Harris, alumnus and a leader in the world of finance, Doctor of Laws; Susan Orlean, alumna and author, Doctor of Humane Letters; Richard N. Sarns, pioneer in biomedical engineering, Doctor of Engineering; and Chris Van Allsburg, alumnus, artist and author, Doctor of Humane Letters.
Together, she said, they "embody the power and reward of creativity."
"Creativity means connecting people and ideas in unconventional ways," Coleman continued. "The old ways just aren't working. It shows in our national discourse, our economy, our health care and our public schools. You will not solve the problems of the day by taking the safe path. Rather, you will need to push yourself and others to think and act in new ways.
"Simply put, we expect you to raise a few eyebrows."
Provost Phil Hanlon elaborated on the meaning of a phrase the graduates have heard ever since they started at U-M: "the Michigan difference."
"You've had four years, or more, to wonder what it means, and by now, I hope you've figured it out: the Michigan difference is you. You are the Michigan difference," Hanlon told them. "All of you now have one thing in common — you are part of the Michigan heritage, and no matter what path you take you will play a key role in defining and making the Michigan difference."
Student speaker Julia Brennan, who received a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, described how, upon entering U-M four years ago, she found its size, quirky traditions and intellectual demands to be "unsettling." But that same feeling is part of what makes the university special, she added.
|Student speaker Julia Brennan, who said she was "unsettled" upon arriving at U-M, ended her speech by removing her graduation gown and declaring, "I stand before you, a convert. Go Blue, forever." (Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography)|
"Never forget that unsettled feeling from our first days here. Never forget the boldness with which we registered for the random class we knew nothing about. … Never forget the confidence with which we accomplished more here, by day and by night, than we had ever dreamed possible," Brennan said.
Among those participating in Saturday's ceremonies were newly commissioned U.S. Navy ensigns Kevin O'Neill and Erich Buss, who graduated through the Naval ROTC program.
"It's a bittersweet moment," said O'Neill, who will soon head to flight school in Pensacola, Fla. "All of our hard work is coming to the precipice of accomplishment."
"It's the end of one chapter and the start of another," added Buss, whose next stop is San Diego and training as a nuclear surface warfare officer.
Elizabeth Fox, who earned a Master of Science degree from the School of Natural Resources and Environment, echoed the sentiment of looking forward to the next chapter. "We're all excited to see where our U-M degrees will take us to the next step in our lives. We feel well prepared and confident."