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Updated 4:00 PM May 18, 2004



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Spring commencement 2004: Davis tells grads
to persist in drive for success

Remember to laugh, try not to be cynical and remind yourself every day that you are responsible for whatever happens in your life, Spring Commencement speaker David E. Davis Jr. told graduates during a chilly May 1 ceremony at Michigan Stadium.
Davis (Photo By Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

"I laugh a lot. I'm surrounded by friends and colleagues who stimulate, inform and entertain me—and I can honestly say that my work does more good than harm," said Davis, founder and editor emeritus of Automobile Magazine who was dubbed the dean of America's automotive critics by Time Magazine. "I hope that each one of you can say the same thing when you address some commencement exercise in the year 2044."

About 4,000 graduates participated in Spring Commencement. Some also attended graduate exercises the day before Commencement, as well as events at their schools and colleges.

The graduates and family members gave Davis a standing ovation for his speech, a blend of personal history and humor in which he recounted his experiences as the successful founder of a magazine and a failed student, Volkswagen dealer and racing driver.

In 1955, at age 24, he flipped his race car upside down during a national championship in California. He lost his left eyelid, the bridge of his nose, the roof of his mouth and all but a half-dozen of his teeth.

"I was uglier than a mud fence," he said. "I actually frightened children and sometimes caused their parents to call the police on me."

After that, he said, "I suddenly understood with great clarity that nothing in life—except death itself—was ever going to kill me. No meeting could ever go that badly. No client would ever be that angry. No business error would ever bring me as close to the brink as I had already been."

In her address to graduates, President Mary Sue Coleman encouraged them to take a last look at their favorite spots on campus and to make plans to come back to visit. She said students told her their favorite places at U-M were Hill Auditorium, the Diag, the Rackham Building, the Michigan Union and the Big House. Alumni from many years ago gave similar responses, she said.

"The great strength of this outstanding university is its enduring quality," she said.
Graduates celebrate the successful completion of their U-M careers at Spring Commencement May 1. The event featured encouragement from President Mary Sue Coleman for graduates to build outstanding careers, even though this is a period of uncertainty, and a speech by automotive writer David E. Davis Jr. that drew a standing ovation. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

During the last year, Coleman said, she met some of the University's most famous alumni: President Gerald Ford, CBS journalist Mike Wallace and playwright Arthur Miller, all of whom graduated in the 1930s.

"You are entering the next phase of your lives and careers during a period of uncertainty," Coleman said. "But remember that even though Gerald Ford, Mike Wallace, Arthur Miller and millions of others entered the workplace in a time of economic decline, they found a way to build outstanding careers."

Davis received an honorary degree (doctor of humane letters), as did Daniel Aaron '33, professor emeritus of American literature at Harvard University, and founder and director of the Library of America series (doctor of humane letters); Julius Chambers '59, director of the Civil Rights Center of the University of North Carolina Law School (doctor of laws); William Nelson Joy '75, Internet pioneer and co-founder of Sun Microsystems (doctor of engineering); Helmut Stern, industrialist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and humanitarian (doctor of laws); and Karen Uhlenbeck '64, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation Regents' Chair in Mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin (doctor of science).

Rachel Fisher of LSA was the student speaker. LSA student Gregory Kramer Weiss gave the reflection at the ceremony, Provost Paul N. Courant provided welcoming comments, Senate Assembly Chair Dr. Charles Koopmann Jr. offered greetings on behalf of the faculty and LSA Dean Terrence McDonald gave opening remarks.

Before the ceremony began, the students shivering outside the stadium included Garry Boyd, who couldn't wait to get to San Francisco. Boyd, who double majored in psychology and theater, will work in human resources for the Target Corp. near the northern California city.

During his time at U-M, he said, he learned "you can handle anything—depression, oppression and recession."

The degree is the result of his hard work, he said. "But the reason I was here was to mature and to get prepared for the real world."

His plans follow Coleman's advice for building an outstanding future. Boyd predicted he will act in the theater on the side while he is in California, "until eventually I get my Academy Award 30 years from now."

Additional commencement coverage>

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