Celebrating diversity, mentorship and the Class of Fall 2023

December 16, 2023

The university awarded 684 degrees to the newest Dearborn Wolverine alums during the commencement ceremonies on Dec. 16.

Photo of celebrating student at Fall 2023 commencement
Class of Fall 2023 graduate Brianna Bryant, a first-generation college student, celebrates on the graduation stage. Photos by Shannon Schultz/Michigan Photography

UM-Dearborn alum and Class of Fall 2023 keynote speaker Bill Anaya has 25-plus years of global government relations experience that’s given him the opportunity to travel the world, build relationships and grow his cultural knowledge.

The 1993 College of Arts, Sciences and Letters graduate worked in the White House, with the Alibaba Group and for Motorola. He’s currently the vice president of global government affairs for Coupang, a major e-commerce company that Fortune magazine called the “Amazon of Asia.”

Addressing the Fall ’23 graduates, Anaya says he credits this path to an alma mater they now share: UM-Dearborn. The university awarded 684 degrees to the newest Dearborn Wolverine alums during commencement ceremonies on Dec. 16. The morning ceremony recognized graduates of the College of Arts, Sciences and Letters and the College of Business. The afternoon ceremony celebrated graduates of the College of Education, Health and Human Services and the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Read Anaya's keynote address here.

“This place bet on me 34-and-a-half years ago — a childhood janitor with Latino roots and limited resources,” said Anaya, who, as a high school student, was selected to receive the Chancellor’s Scholarship. He was able to share that news with family before his father’s passing from cancer. 

“Because of UM-Dearborn’s decision to grant a full academic scholarship to me, I would be able to earn an otherwise unobtainable world-class education and so much more,” Anaya told the graduates.

Listening to Anaya share his experiences as a hard-working, first-generation student from an underrepresented community, some of the graduates nodded their heads in recognition. The UM-Dearborn student body, according to Fall 2023 data, is 47% first-generation and 46% Pell-eligible.

Anaya also spoke about the ways UM-Dearborn shaped his life through mentors, dedicated professors like Political Science Professor Emeritus Helen Graves, internships and overall support.

Chancellor Domenico Grasso and alum Bill Anaya, '93, keynote speaker for Class of Fall 2023
Chancellor Domenico Grasso praised Bill Anaya, a 1993 alum who delivered the keynote address, for his remarks to the Class of Fall 2023.

“These internships and caring leaders made all the difference in my life,” he said. “And Dearborn was at the heart of it all. Always training me, always propelling me, always encouraging me. Always making my life and circumstances different.”

Student speaker Nour Haj Salem, a Computer Engineering and Computer Science graduate student from Tunisia, said she’s thankful to have earned a UM-Dearborn degree and to learn from the opportunities that came with it.

“Inspired by my grandfather's wise words, ‘eli bela fi haja ydirha,’ which means, ‘if you truly desire something, you must do what it takes to achieve it,’ I became the first in my family to venture alone to the U.S. for graduate studies,” Haj Salem said. While at UM-Dearborn, she completed an internship at CBRE as a software engineer. She also worked as a research assistant studying machine learning with Assistant Professor of Computer and Information Science Foyzul Hassan.

“Let us take a moment to express our deepest gratitude to the professors, mentors and all the dedicated staff who have been our guiding lights,” she said. “Their support, patience and wisdom have been crucial to our success.”

Haj Salem also talked about the welcoming atmosphere she experienced at UM-Dearborn when she traveled 5,000 miles from Tunisia to attend grad school in the U.S. She said the diversity on campus, the halal food offered in the Renick University Center’s McKinley Cafe and volunteer-based public engagement opportunities reflect the community she chose to study within.

Student speaker Nour Haj Salem, an international student from Africa
Student speaker Nour Haj Salem congratulated the Class of Fall 2023, while also welcoming her family to the U.S. They traveled from Tunisia to see her graduate.

“Being part of this university is a source of pride, as we embrace and celebrate our differences together,” she said. “Looking ahead, this experience will guide our future work. We'll carry teamwork, empathy and the appreciation of diversity into our careers.”

The university’s commitment to both inclusion and practice-based learning was on full display at the ceremony, with the debut of new name-reading software developed by Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Hafiz Malik and four of his CECS graduate students. The software allowed students – or, if they chose, partners, parents or even their kids – to record their names exactly how they should be pronounced. As each student walked across the stage, one of Malik’s students scanned a card featuring a QR code, which triggered the system to play the graduate’s audio recording and display their name on the big screen.

Photo of Professor Hafiz Malik and graduate students who created name announcing software for commencement
Professor Hafiz Malik, center and taking a bow, and his CECS graduate students debuted a new name-reading software at the Dec. 16 commencement ceremonies.

After the last name was announced, rows of students waited for the moment to turn the tassel and make it official. Chancellor Domenico Grasso then announced it was time to stand up, move it from the right to the left of their mortar boards and celebrate.

“I welcome you to the society of learned men and women and to the pantheon of distinguished Michigan alumni — more than 670,000 strong who have shaped and defined the world in which we live — now it is your turn,” Grasso said. “I wish you every good fortune and success.”

Earlier, as Anaya congratulated the graduates on this milestone, he said he’s looking forward to the difference they will make in their chosen fields and the world. He encouraged them to combine their education with the lessons gained through their challenges and perseverance.

“For yourself and for someone you see around you during your career, get in the business of transport — from disadvantage to fulfillment. Be a center of gravity around that idea,” he said. “Make your approach contagious and part of the DNA of any organization where you are now or where you will be. Provide the special brand of care, the Dearborn brand of care.”

See more photos of the big day or watch the recorded ceremonies on YouTube and Facebook

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.