‘May your dreams be the compass to your next destination’

April 27, 2024

The university awarded 1,201 degrees to the newest Dearborn Wolverine alums during the commencement ceremonies on April 27.

A UM-Dearborn graduate walks across the stage at the Spring 2024 commencement ceremony.
A UM-Dearborn grad walks across the stage during the commencement ceremony for the College of Arts, Sciences and Letters and the College of Business. Photos by Shannon Schultz/Michigan Photography

Good things come in threes. There are three U-M campuses. On Saturday, there were three UM-Dearborn graduation ceremonies. And Ashwini Balasubramanian, a commencement keynote speaker, said there’s the magical three: the power of big dreams, the power of resilience and the power of a growth mindset.

Balasubramanian, who spoke at the graduate and doctoral ceremony, is general manager – advanced engineering at Harley-Davidson Motor Company and a 2005 master’s in mechanical engineering alum. She said she was “the immigrant kid that could not believe her fortune of being here at Dearborn.” Since she was a child, she noticed things often come in threes — and it became her favorite number. 

Keynote speaker for the graduate ceremony Ashwini Balasubramanian addresses the crowd during commencement.
Ashwini Balasubramanian, keynote speaker for the graduate and doctoral ceremony.

“I am an engineer, so I love to dig into the science behind the workings of the world. It so happens that there is a scientific reason for the No. 3 being everywhere around us. No. 3 is the smallest number for a recognizable pattern for our brains,” she said.

“As you embark on this new chapter of your lives, armed with the power of big dreams, the power of resilience, and the power of a growth mindset, remember that the journey ahead will be filled with twists and turns, triumphs and tribulations. But never forget the potential that lies within you – discover your own three inner strengths giving you the power to shape your own destiny, to make your mark on the world, and to inspire others to do the same.”

Nearly 1,200 grads earning 1,201 degrees — cheered on by their families and friends — were recognized for their academic accomplishments during three separate 90-minute ceremonies at the Fieldhouse. The graduate ceremony took place at 5 p.m., and two undergraduate ceremonies took place at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Greg Harden, the keynote speaker for the undergraduate ceremonies, is known as the go-to guy for advice and motivation. He’s inspired seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, Heisman Trophy winner and Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard and 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. Harden is a UM-Ann Arbor alum who retired from his U-M Athletics executive associate athletic director role in 2020.

Greg Harden, keynote speaker for the undergraduate ceremonies.
Greg Harden, keynote speaker for the undergraduate ceremonies.

But when learning about the spring Class of 2024, Harden said the script was flipped.

“I need you to know how important it was for me to let you know I didn't come here just to inspire you. I came here because I'm inspired by you, by who you are and where you came from, and what you're doing and how you did it, and how you’re going to become an amazing representative of the University of Michigan-Dearborn,” said Harden, who graduated from UM-Ann Arbor in 1981 with an undergrad degree and in 1986 with his master’s in social work. 

Nearly half of the spring 2024 graduates were the first in their families to go to college. Many were Pell-eligible. Their ages spanned from 19 to 74.

“You are the leaders and best,” Harden continued. “You are graduates. You are those who stayed the course. Instead of being bitter, you got better. Instead of being overwhelmed, you overcame. Instead of being frightened, you led and conquered fear with faith. We've watched. We've heard about you. We've seen what you've done. You have trained yourself to give 100 percent, 100 percent of the time in everything you do.”

Undergraduate student speaker Wasey Rehman, who earned a biochemistry degree, said he’s proud to be graduating with Dearborn Wolverines who are from different places and stages of life.

Wasey Rehman, undergraduate student speaker for the spring Class of 2024.
Wasey Rehman, undergraduate student speaker for the spring Class of 2024.

“Let it be known that whereas other schools are defined by their exclusivity — the small portion of students they admit — we are defined by our inclusivity, because we are more than just students,” Rehman told his fellow graduates. “Whether it took you two or 10 years to complete your degree, our families, friends, faculty, staff, and administrators, have all believed in us here enough to make us a part of their lives and to instill in us values of excellence, compassion and perseverance. It is now our turn as graduates, leaving to take that part of us off to the four corners of the globe.”

Graduate ceremony student speaker Dawood Al Nabhani, who earned a master’s in mechanical engineering and is continuing on for his Ph.D., talked about the diversity of UM-Dearborn and the importance of cultural exchange in education and life.

“I find myself deeply compelled to reflect on the value of diversity and cultural exchange in our educational experience. I have had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the power of embracing diversity,” Al Nabhani said. “Our university serves as a bridge connecting continents and bringing cultures together. It is through understanding and celebrating these differences that we enrich not only our academic journey but also our personal growth. Each interpersonal interaction unfolds as a valuable lesson, and every lesson shared contributes to our overall experience.”

Dawood Al Nabhani, graduate ceremony student speaker.
Dawood Al Nabhani, graduate ceremony student speaker.

Chancellor Domenico Grasso shared similar sentiments with the graduates: “I will leave you with only one piece of advice: develop and nurture a growth mindset. Stay curious,” he said.

As each ceremony came to an end, parents smiled, partners held flowers for the newly minted graduates, and kids cheered for their parents and grandparents. This brought things back to the power of three — much like Balasubramanian’s closing advice.

“May your own magical three guide you: may your coffee be strong, your Wi-Fi be stable, and your sense of humor be resilient,” she said. “Congratulations again, and may your dreams be the compass to your next destination.”

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

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.