It is an honor to be back here in Dearborn to celebrate this important moment for the University of Michigan.
It’s a pleasure to see our students, faculty, staff from U of M Dearborn.
I also want to acknowledge:
- U of M Board of Regents Chair Ron Weiser and Regent Paul Brown.
- Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly and the many other elected leaders here today.
- Professor Joy Beatty, the incoming SACUA chair, whom I’ve enjoyed working with over the last couple of years.
And of course, U of M Dearborn is nationally recognized for its engagement with the community, so it’s no surprise that so many friends and partners are here, as well. All of you collectively represent the power and the promise of this great university. Thank you.
I congratulate Chancellor Grasso and his family, and welcome them back to the Michigan Family. Chancellor Grasso brings with him an outstanding track record of leadership and achievement. He’s a U of M alumnus and distinguished scholar, having published influential research and earning prestigious honors in his discipline of environmental engineering. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Army, and was the founding director of Smith College’s Picker Engineering Program – the first engineering program at a U.S. women’s college.
He is also off to a fast and productive start as Chancellor. Just last month, he recognized the accomplishments of the professors, lecturers and students at the campus’s Honor Scholars and Faculty Awards Ceremony. He’s leading a strategic planning process for U of M Dearborn, which includes students, faculty, staff and community members. He’s engaged with alumni and donors, including events in this region and throughout the nation. And he is excited about the future we share.
It’s a future made brighter by the tremendous value of a regional public university – where connections to the community, its people, its economy, and its future are deeply embedded in its public ethos. I mention these distinct qualities of U of M Dearborn – because they have been hallmarks of quality here for decades.
In fact, Dearborn’s first Chancellor, Leonard Goodall, recognized this potential when he led its transition to a full university in the 70s. “People in urban universities come together from a wide variety of academic, economic and ethnic backgrounds,” he said. “Campuses such as UM-Dearborn must build upon this diversity as a part of the educational experience.”
Chancellor Grasso has embraced this essential aspect of the university, including in his core values: diversity, inclusion and community engagement. And viewing the potential of a diverse, well-qualified student body – who may lack privilege but do not lack ambition – as setting the campus apart.
This is a very special day for all of us. U of M Dearborn has long been a pipeline of innovation… Of talent… And of hope. Your research brings innovation to American industries in the midst of major transitions, and solutions to pressing urban challenges such as poverty, public safety, and cultural conflict.
Your graduates, the vast majority of them, stay in our state, bolstering employers and enhancing communities in need of locally-engaged leaders. And families from this region and beyond know that their students will be empowered to achieve their dreams and transform their futures.
I have seen this first-hand. Last year, at your Spring Commencement, I had the pleasure of meeting U of M Dearborn Difference Maker and Chancellor’s Medallion recipient Monica de Roche. Like Chancellor Grasso, she is a first-generation college student. Monica spoke about the amazing talent and perseverance of her fellow graduates during her commencement speech.
“My journey to graduation more closely resembles a climb up Mount Olympus than a walk in the park,” she said. “We have reached the finish line of this journey and the start of the one to come -- and we have done it together. There are so many ways in which we can now give back to lift others up in this same way.”
We can all find inspiration in Chancellor Grasso’s career of helping others, as well. In addition to teaching and research, he’s shared his expertise broadly, including with the U.N.’s Industrial Development Organization, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the legislature of Peru.
I know that there are many more impactful stories ahead for U of M Dearborn, and I again congratulate everyone on this momentous day.
It is now my honor to introduce Ruth Simmons, who will deliver the inaugural address. Dr. Simmons is President of Prairie View A&M University, a scholar of Romance Languages and Literature – and a great friend and mentor of mine.
She previously served as president of Smith College for six years, and then Brown University from 2001 through what I thought was her retirement in 2012. But it came as no surprise to me that she felt that there was more good work to do. As she told the Texas Tribune, it was the students who drew her back, “their determination, their commitment to try to better themselves.”
While serving as her last Provost at Brown, I learned an extraordinary amount from her. She taught me that a university has to be open and honest about its own history in order to build an inclusive, and truly excellent, community.
At Brown, she commissioned a report that examined the role of slaves and the Atlantic slave trade in the history of the university, the first such self-study of its kind in higher education. She also led Brown in its transition to need-blind admission in 2007, a critical step on the pathway to building a diverse learning community.
Her assessment of her current role at Prairie View further gives us an aspirational model for our new chapter in the history of U of M Dearborn.
“I want these students to know that they are fit to be in any setting,” she said, “fit to be with any people they encounter, fit to learn from a lot of different settings.”
Please help me welcome President Ruth Simmons.