Chancellor's Office

Convocation Address
September 2011

Greetings, new students and families.  We are glad to have you joining the University of Michigan-Dearborn.  This is an exciting transition for you – and it is an exciting moment for us as well.  Every year we greet another group of talented, curious, and imaginative new students; each year our courses are enriched by new perspectives from fresh minds; and each year our student organizations have a new infusion of talent and energy.  Your arrival is part of the creative mix that keeps the university a lively and dynamic place.  The faculty and staff of UM-Dearborn extend our sincere welcome to you!

You are the people who are most directly responsible for the quality and depth of your educations.  But your partners in this journey are the faculty of the university.  UM-Dearborn is privileged to have a particularly talented and dedicated faculty, and I want to extend my appreciation to them today.  They are intellectually and civically engaged in numerous ways, and they are committed to your success. Faculty like Maureen Linker in philosophy, who led a group of students this summer helping to create a new honors program designed specifically for transfer students.  Like Lora Lempert in sociology, who has helped to develop opportunities for our students and incarcerated women and men to learn together through the Inside-Out program.  Like Pravansu Mohanty in Mechanical Engineering, who has developed world-class innovations in new materials processes – thus contributing to the vitality of manufacturing in our region. Like Josh Linkner, CEO and Managing Partner of Detroit Venture Partners and newly appointed Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the College of Business, who will be helping our students see how creativity can transform the economy.  And like Mary Trepanier-Street in education, who has led the Early Childhood Education Center for over sixteen years and has built it into a national example for excellence in this area.  These are all members of our faculty, like so many others at the university, who are committed to the impact of our campus in the region, and committed to your academic success.

I know we are all thinking of the commemorations that will take place all across the United States this week to solemnly recognize the sacrifices our fellow citizens endured ten years ago on September 11, 2001.  We have learned many things from that experience.  One particularly important thing we have learned is the intrinsic and great value of creating an inclusive and harmonious community.  It is a source of somber pride to all of us on this campus that our community held solid through the challenges and mistrust that came in the years following that terrible event.  Our campus will join with ACCESS, the ACLU of Michigan, and WDET at the end of the week to host an important colloquium on “How 9/11 Shaped Our Voices”.  Your fellow student and president of UM-Dearborn Student Government, David Knezek, will be one of the speakers, as will Asif Khan who is also a UM-Dearborn student, along with other community leaders.  I encourage you to attend, Friday, 8:30-11 in the CASL building, as UM-Dearborn reflects on the decade since 9/11.

Our campus is indeed committed to being a truly inclusive one. In fact, we look at this goal as one of the really important challenges for the next twenty years for all universities and colleges.  All of you know that our region is both highly diverse and highly segregated.  How can we do a better job of learning from each other within the university and within our region?  UM-Dearborn aims to become a national leader in establishing some of the practices that can make this goal a reality.  An example is the campus tradition, now into its ninth year, of hosting regular “Conversations on Race” for the campus community. As part of our efforts towards this goal of inclusiveness, a year ago we created the position of Assistant to the Chancellor for Inclusion.  Dr. Ann Lampkin-Williams is here on the platform with other university leaders. She is already an active presence on the campus, as we find better and deeper ways of embodying the values of respect, acceptance, and mutual learning that will be the hallmarks of the twenty-first century. Dr. Lampkin-Williams, would you please stand?

You are beginning a truly important part of your life course by becoming a student at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.  So I will take the risk of offering a few thoughts about what your educations can do for you.  Of course we want to help you prepare for a career.  But more fundamentally, we want to prepare you as thinkers, creators, leaders, and doers.  We want to help you gain skills of analysis, reasoning, and communication that allow you to make sense of the complex problems our world faces.  We want you to gain some of the knowledge of history, ethics, and culture that permit you to see the context of the events you experience in the next several decades.  And we want to stimulate you to become creative and collaborative problem-solvers.  If your generation is going to solve the difficult problems we face in every direction – economic stagnation, war and peace, hunger and malnutrition, rapid climate change, urban decline, or the horrible state of reality television – then you’ll really need all those skills of creativity and problem-solving that you can gain.  And the broad education we want you to have at UM-Dearborn is the best way I know of to gain these skills.

One of the core values that we have at the university is one that I think a lot of you already share.  It is the value of civic engagement and community service.  On this campus we realize that the world we live in requires compassion, commitment, and a willingness to serve in order to ensure that the communities we care about will thrive.  There will be many opportunities for you to extend your own capacity for service during your years on campus.  We want to help you make that engagement be as effective and transformative as it can be.  When a student organization comes together to take on a Habitat for Humanity project, the students are turning their skills into a source of hope and help for a deserving family.  They are also learning how deeply satisfying it is to work together for a common purpose.  Civic engagement is good for our communities, and it is good for us individually as people.

I had the privilege last month of visiting the White House in Washington DC, along with Vice Chancellor Stan Henderson and Student Activities Director Kris Day.  President Obama has announced a White House initiative on Faith-based and Community Service, and Kris Day submitted a proposal defining opportunities for community engagement by our campus.  Our team joined representatives from another 250 universities around the country, and we were introduced to some very inspiring individuals.  Most important for me, though, was the conviction and dedication that members of the President’s team showed in their discussions of these efforts.  These leaders emphasized “service with impact,” and made the point that we can really move the needle on social problems if we work well together.  Young people are in the lead on this initiative, and you can be among them.

Our campus has adopted a very simple mission for itself, and I hope it is one that will inspire you.  It is this:

UM-Dearborn is committed to the academic excellence of the University of Michigan, dedicated to achieving positive impact in Metropolitan Detroit.

We want to bring together two sets of values: academic excellence and metropolitan impact. We aim through our programs, our student organizations, and our faculty research to find ways to contribute to improvements in the quality of life and the social and economic wellbeing of the 4.5 million people of our region.  A university can be a great force for social and economic progress, and we are committed to being such a force in this region.  And that is where you come in: you have all the potential necessary to become innovators and leaders during your careers, based on the education you will create for yourselves in the next four or five years.

This is the point of the quotation we’ve chosen from Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest authors of social change in the twentieth century.  Nelson Mandela wrote these words:

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

This is true for you; and it is true as well for the thousands of young people our campus has touched directly and indirectly over the past half century.

I’ll close by returning to an important fact about the relationship we expect to establish with you.  We have high expectations of you – to work hard, to be scrupulous in respecting the integrity of academic honesty, and to be engaged.  And you in turn have every right to have high expectations of us.  We believe in you, and I know that you will justify that trust.

Congratulations to you, students and parents of the class of 2015.  And I look forward to meeting you on many occasions, beginning with the ice cream social that will take place immediately following today’s ceremony.

I would now like to introduce Kate Davy, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, to offer a few remarks.