2018 Convocation Address

September 4, 2018

It is my pleasure to welcome you to the University of Michigan - Dearborn.

Today’s ceremony marks the official beginning of your lives as Michigan students within the Michigan family, and it is particularly special for me because we are beginning this journey together. Being a proud Michigan alum, I am returning home. And I know that, like me, you couldn’t have picked a better place to call home.

We are a special branch of the University of Michigan family tree known as the Dearborn Wolverines. UM-Dearborn is now your alma mater — fostering mother – and she, like any good parent, is welcoming you home.

Several years ago, the movie Mama Mia became a major hit — at least in our household. My daughters played the ABBA soundtrack incessantly. The movie itself was quite interesting, using the far-fetched conceit of stringing seemingly unrelated ABBA songs together to weave a narrative. I was so intrigued that I thought I would use the same trope here with three rather well-known pieces.

As you entered today, you were greeted by the song Home, which contextualized very nicely and melodically this campus’ commitment to you:

Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons that fill you with fear

Just know you’re not alone
'Cause we’re going to make this place your home

Your new home was forged as a partnership between two great institutions: The University of Michigan and Ford Motor Company, each of whom brought a commitment to excellence and innovation in the founding of this campus. Both The University of Michigan and Ford have rich histories in transforming our country and the world; and together they created an institution that will transform you.

Today, we are proud to welcome you to this honored legacy.

While Ford, sadly, has no fight song, Michigan’s is arguably the best in the country — and it is a song for you to own! And you will sing it later: Hail! To you, Victors Valiant. You Are The Leaders and Best.

Make no mistake: A college education is truly transformative. Only a little more than a third of Americans have a college degree. Globally, that number drops to little less than 7 percent.

These are troubling statistics because a college education has been associated with so many benefits: higher pay, better job security and satisfaction, Improved self-esteem, healthier and longer lives. But most importantly, as Derek Bok, former president of Harvard noted, the primary and foremost objective of a college education is to create an informed citizenry.

The ability to garner facts, listen closely, discern knowledge, think critically, communicate persuasively and work together is what has made this nation great — and is desperately needed for our nation’s continued success. It is these habits of mind that you will learn here as Dearborn Wolverines.

F. Scott Fitzgerald described the test of a first-rate intelligence as “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” You will be challenged to do just that during your time here.

But intelligence alone is not enough. In the words of Martin Luther King, "Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”

Although there is no clear-cut definition of character, there are aspects upon which most will agree: honesty, integrity, empathy, accountability, commitment and self-control. I have often told our own children that character is defined by what you do when no one else is looking.

Here at UM-Dearborn, you will have plenty of occasions to develop your character, both individually and collectively as part of our Michigan family. Indeed, we hope that during your time here you will be contextualizing your education in the great debates and grand challenges that define our times, with special attention to what it means to be a person of character.

Truly, the broad diversity for which our campus is proudly known, and which is the source of this campus’ strength, allows for robust and meaningful opportunities to directly engage with and learn from others who may hold very different worldviews about the values and ideas that underpin personal and social decisions.

A rich environment, indeed, in which to think critically about what it means to be individuals of character!

Of course, be assured that there may be times when you fall short of your ideals; but don’t despair, because we can learn as much from our failures as from our successes. Pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and move on.

Over the next four years, you will have one of life’s ultimate luxuries: the power to choose what to study, what to learn and what to explore.

Though you may not recognize it now, it will be an otherworldly, magical time in your life.

Not unlike many university campuses, UM-Dearborn is more like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts than the real world. You will find enchantment in the literature and arts you study, enthrallment in the social sciences you learn and astonishment in the natural and health sciences you explore.

And in engineering and technology — well, as famed writer Arthur C. Clarke once remarked, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” You will find magic being done in laboratories and classrooms all around this campus.

This is truly a magical moment for you, to be embarking on a journey of ideas and exploration, of identity and discovery, of who you are and what you value, and how to turn your passion and interests into a career and enriching life.

It becomes pretty clear that UM-Dearborn is your platform 9¾, the precise location that Harry Potter embarked on his adventures. And, for each of you, your individual journey is beginning here and now.

Your professors, your adviser, your classmates and friends will help guide you along the way. And we will make this place your home!

But the freedom to figure out what engages you, what compels you to deeper thought and meaningful action — that’s both the fun and challenging part. And that discovery is yours alone to uncover.

Of course, you will experience both triumphs and setbacks. In fact, if you don’t experience that metaphorical broken bone or bones during your time here, you probably haven’t stretched enough.

This is your time to take chances, to dare.

Be intentional. Make every second count:

  • Take a class just because it seems interesting or unusual.
  • Join a club or a team not because you’re good at something, but because you’re not.
  • Sit down at lunch with someone who is different from you.
  • Help your classmates succeed.
  • Make campus a better place.

This campus is filled with friends that you haven’t yet met.

Which brings me to our third song, I Lived, which you will hear as you process out of today’s ceremony.

I ask you to listen closely and consider the lyrics because at the end of your time here, we want you to have no regrets. We want you to say:

I did it all

We hope that you spend your days
and they all add up

and you owned every second that this world could give
And when that sun goes down
you will raise your cup and say I lived

And on that note, I would like to highlight a terrific asset to help guide you in your self-exploration and development, and give you a decided advantage in the marketplace after graduation — it is called the Talent Gateway.

It was the brainchild of Provost Davy, who you will hear from in a few minutes. It was developed here and is unique to our Dearborn campus. It will help you capture the most from your time here, and I encourage you strongly to take advantage of it.

You are remarkable individuals who will spend the most transformative years of your lives as part of a world-class university, surrounded by the brilliance of a distinguished faculty and dedicated staff members, all of whom are committed to your success.

In the coming days, weeks, months and years, you will cross this beautiful campus countless times.

This is your platform 9¾ — where you can develop your talents and thrive — where you are leaving on your adventure.

On occasion, just take a moment to stop and simply look around, to soak in the magic of this wonderful place, and consider how fortunate you are to be part of the Michigan family — a community that is committed to both supporting your personal quest for a meaningful livelihood as well as a deeper understanding of yourself in the greater world — how fortunate you are to be a Dearborn Wolverine.

I wish you the very best. Welcome home. Go Blue!

Office of the Chancellor

1070 - Administration Building
4901 Evergreen Road
Dearborn, MI 48128
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Phone: 313-593-5500
Fax: 313-593-5204