'The future belongs to you'

April 30, 2023

UM-Dearborn celebrated more than 1130 graduates — and the 1151 degrees conferred — during Sunday’s three commencement ceremonies.

Photo of a Class of 2023 graduate

Maize and blue pride filled the Fieldhouse. Families held rose bouquets. Young children clapped for their parents. And newly conferred graduates held up decorated graduation caps thanking those who helped them along their educational journey.

On Sunday, April 30, 1133 Dearborn Wolverines — along with their supporters — celebrated their 1151 earned degrees. 

Among the people cheering for the newest UM-Dearborn alumni was keynote speaker Marc Howze, a 1986 graduate. The first in his family to go to college, Howze said UM-Dearborn changed his life. The education the Detroit native earned set him up to succeed in graduate programs at Duke University and U-M Law School. He’s traveled the world. And he holds a global leadership position at John Deere, which Fortune Magazine calls one of the world’s most admired companies. 

The Commencement speaker then let the Class of 2023 in on a little secret: When Howze was in their mortarboards decades earlier, he didn’t know that all of the above accomplishments would be part of his story.

Graduate standing with family in front of UM-Dearborn block M

“On the outside, you look good. But on the inside, I know many of you are grappling with what the future holds for you." In the face of that anxiety, Howze had a message: "Not only does the future belong to you, you are prepared for the future.”

“Make no mistake about it, you have earned and received a world class education," said Howze, who is John Deere’s Office of the Chairman senior adviser. In this role, he provides counsel to the CEO and other leaders, which includes supporting advocacy efforts. "The University of Michigan-Dearborn has prepared you for what lies beyond these walls." 

Read Howze's speech.

Photo of Spring Commencement Speaker Marc Howzr

UM-Dearborn hosted three commencement ceremonies on Sunday. The morning ceremony recognized graduate students, who earned masters, specialist and doctoral degrees. The 1 p.m. event lauded graduates of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters and the College of Education, Health, and Human Services. The 5 p.m. festivities honored the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the College of Business.

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

Graduation day started with high energy – even at the 9 a.m. ceremony, airhorn noises, whistles and name shouts could be heard throughout the Fieldhouse as students walked up to the stage.

UM-Dearborn graduation ceremony stage

That excitement was felt around the world too. Watching the livestream, Otaru Victoria from Nigeria commented, “We are so proud of you.” From India, Dattu Palde extended congratulations to all the graduates.

In the Fieldhouse, keynote speaker Howze spoke to an attentive audience and shared what he’s learned through his 40-plus years of educational and professional experiences. Among the wisdom given, Howze said there will be obstacles that may make the new Dearborn graduates consider giving up on their goals  — and it’s important to be true to yourself and to keep going.

Howze came to campus in 1981, only three years after Dearborn Mayor Orville Hubbard, who was known for his segregationist policies, ended his role as mayor. As a Black student, Howze said he experienced racism during those college years and thought about dropping out. As he contemplated what to do, Howze went to his eastside Detroit church, where an older woman took $5 from her change purse and handed it to Howze. She said she wanted to help because she didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. Howze reflected, “At that moment, I realized I was the embodiment of the dreams of a generation. And here I was, about to throw away the opportunity of a lifetime because I felt uncomfortable."

Howze said he gathered himself armed with "faith, fortitude, intellect, hustle and tenacity." He said, "rather than leave, I got involved in the university community, student government, got involved with student activism. I met professors like Elaine Clark and the late Bernie Klein, who pushed me and inspired me and told me what was right about me and that I could make a difference."

By staying, Howze said he got a world-class education that gave him a strong foundation for his future success. Howze realized that he could be the future — and he’d work to make the people who didn’t agree reevaluate their biases and who resisted justice efforts a remnant of the past. As Howze shared his experience, the graduates in the audience erupted into applause and cheers for the internationally recognized leader, who continues to lead efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion.

Undergraduate student speaker April Marvin, a 2023 CASL graduate, walked a different path than Howze, but she echoed the importance of action and voice. “Your voice is the catalyst to change, creating a movement, sharing your passions, and staking your claim on the future. Even if you are afraid, and even if your voice is quiet or shaky, it has immense power,” she said.

Photo of Class of 2023 undergraduate student speaker April Marvin

Marvin first attended college 20 years ago. She left due to personal struggles and obligations — but returned to prove to herself and her family, and in particular her grandparents, that she could succeed in an environment she found challenging. Not only did she accomplish her academic goals, she advocated for underrepresented groups by helping restart an organization for nontraditional students and helping organize a free professional clothing event so students with financial need could have outfits for interviews, internships, the office and more. 

“We have learned…to celebrate the diversity and difference in everyone we encounter,” Marvin said. “If you take anything from UM-Dearborn today it should be that no matter where you are, who you are, or what surrounds you, that your voice can move mountains.”

But moving mountains is not a small feat, and that change can be intimidating and a little frightening. Graduate student speaker Hiba Qamar wanted the Class of 2023 to remember that there are times they will fail — because everyone does. But it’s what comes next that counts.

Graduating student standing at podium delivering commencement remarks

“Even in moments where you feel discouraged and fall, don’t ever quit. Sometimes failing at something is the best way for you to reset course and figure out what you’re doing next,” she said. “Looking back, taking risks is the reason I landed my dream job, got the opportunity to start grad school and found mentors that have been there to support and guide me in my career. Remember, the chances you take, the people you meet, and what you believe will define you.”

Chancellor Domenico Grasso congratulated students at the three ceremonies and presided over the moment where they turned their tassels from the right to the left: “This is the day that you have worked toward…you should be proud of your accomplishments," he said. After giving kudos to the graduates and recognizing their families and friends for supporting them, Grasso continued, "You will have a chance to make a positive change in the world. When that opportunity arises, please seize it…Go big, go proud and forever ‘Go Blue!’”

Speaking to the Class of 2023, Howze told the UM-Dearborn Wolverines to never wonder if they belong — they do. Not only that, the collegiate journey they experienced has prepared them. “The future is yours — even if you don’t exactly know what to do with it just yet,” he said. “As you stand gazing into a future of infinite possibilities, remember that your best days lay ahead. Remember to be a participant, not a passenger. Help to shape the future. Why? Because the future belongs to you.”

Photos by Michigan Photography/ Article by Sarah Tuxbury.