Commencement Address, Spring 2007
Like any true Michigan man, I’m always eager to spread the good word about Michigan. And a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to serve on a panel for high school students who wanted to learn more about the college experience here. As I prepared my spiel on how you have a better chance to get into med or law school from Michigan, on how this university is easily the best college in the Midwest, how Ann Arbor restaurants trump all others, and last but not least, if all else fails, how BTB is open ‘till 4 AM, I got to thinking about my experiences here. What I wanted to communicate was why I love Michigan. Now, why do I love Michigan?
I came to one prominent conclusion: 7-month winters…
I challenged myself to put a finger on what this college means to me. I mean, Michigan is the only real college experience I, and most of you have ever had. Think with me now, what would college have been without packing into these seats on crisp Saturday afternoons to watch our boys in blue just obliterate who ever it was who wasn’t lucky enough to be wearing the winged helmet? What would be to walk between classes and not see your upper level biology professor just jammin’ it up on his harmonica? What would it be without the fishbowl? (Actually, I can answer that one: you probably would not have wasted a sum total of about 30 hours of your life, just looking for a computer)
And then, I thought about the real reason a student comes to a place of higher learning like this one.
But education is a process of transformation. And I realized: I love Michigan because the person who’s leaving here today is better than the one who came. And I know that that extends to you my fellow graduates, as well.
So I gave my schpeal that day, and all was well and good until one kid, sitting in the back, raised his hand, and asked, “Bro, what’s this Michigan difference they keep talking about in the commercials?”
For lack of anything better I said, “Classes (and commencements) start 10 minutes later at Michigan.” I guess that appeased him, ‘cause he’ll be here in the fall.
But besides a great advertising ploy, what really is the Michigan Difference?
It was back to deep thought for me…
Is it the value of the sum total of knowledge that you and I might have gained in lectures, labs, or discussions?
Is it the fact that we’re now more qualified for X, Y, or Z job, or that we’ve passed step one on our way to becoming doctors, or lawyers?
Is it the fact that I can now add two more letters to add to my name? (Which by the way are B-S)
Obviously, none of these are the Michigan Difference. And no, the Michigan Difference isn’t in the classes, or the papers we’ve written, or the tests we’ve sat through. It’s not in the faculty, the administration, the facilities, or even Ann Arbor. The Michigan Difference is us: it’s the students. It’s in the diversity of names, faces, stories, and experiences that we decorate this great place with. It’s in the time we’ve spent in self-assessment, self-improvement, and thought. It’s the questions we’ve asked and those that we’ve answered. It’s the care we’ve shown, the people we’ve helped, and the passion that we have that defines us.
Moreover, it’s the fact that we’re about to go out into a world that absolutely needs us, needs to hear our stories spoken loudly, to consider our opinions, and to engage us in discussion…
The world needs us to ask it questions, to answer its beckoning, to show that we care, to give it mercy, compassion, and love…
It needs us to help those less fortunate. And most of all, it needs us to spread that contagious Michigan passion that defines us…
It’s that we have the audacity to believe that we can change the world, and that each of us will…
That my fellow graduates, University of Michigan class of 2007, is the Michigan difference. And I’m humbled to have been a part of it with you.