Office of the VP for Communications – Keeping alumni and friends connected to U-M

Extraordinary alumni honored

Hail to the class of 2017

Graduates from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance performed the "Amazing Blue Medley" (Photo: Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography.)

Graduates from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance performed the “Amazing Blue Medley” (Photo: Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography.)

The inspirational words and work of leaders past and present served as a guiding light for University of Michigan graduates April 29 as they began their own journeys into the future at Spring Commencement.

In honor of U-M’s bicentennial, the ceremony for more than 7,000 graduates featured several unique elements, including performances by Oscar-winning songwriting team and U-M alumni Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, a multimedia performance of historic commencement addresses, and the presentation of 10 Bicentennial Alumni Awards.

In his remarks to the graduates, seated on the Michigan Stadium field, President Mark Schlissel imparted three lessons about discovery: Sometimes their experiments will fail, sometimes their interpretations will be wrong, and, finally, that society will only progress to its full potential if people use the knowledge created through the discovery process to inform decisions.

At U-M, he said, the commitment to discovery is sacred, and it was former U-M President Henry Tappan who transformed higher education by proposing a university “whose teaching and research would be grounded in open and critical inquiry.”

“Tappan’s vision is the foundation of each of our 19 schools and colleges,” Schlissel said. “To this day, in our 200th year, it’s what sets us apart. It defines our university, and it makes a U-M education different.”

“I hope you will never give up your search for knowledge and understanding,” Schlissel said. “If you keep searching, using the lessons you learned here, you will always find them. Because nothing can hide from a Wolverine forever.”

As we go forward…

Graduates enter Michigan Stadium bearing the flags of U-M's schools and colleges. (Photo: Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography.)

Graduates enter Michigan Stadium bearing the flags of U-M’s schools and colleges. (Photo: Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography.)

Throughout the ceremony, graduating students of diverse cultural and academic backgrounds introduced various parts of the program.

In these preludes, the students invoked the past and present, speaking to guests about the history of their schools and U-M as well as briefly sharing their own stories about their lives, academic experiences, and goals.

The multimedia performance “As We Go Forward” displayed historical video footage on stadium screens while current U-M dignitaries on the stage read portions of historic commencement addresses. Malcolm Tulip, assistant professor of theatre and drama in SMTD, created the presentation.

The montage featured addresses delivered by such dignitaries as Presidents Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, legendary singer Marian Anderson, civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In one portion of the montage, Susan Collins, dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, recited parts of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s renowned speech unveiling the “Great Society.”

“Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth,” Collins read from Johnson’s speech. “For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.”

“The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all,” Collins continued. “It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time.”

A commitment to shaping and serving society

Interim Provost Paul N. Courant addresses the graduates. (Photo: Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography.)

Interim Provost Paul N. Courant addresses the graduates. (Photo: Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography.)

In his remarks, Interim Provost Paul N. Courant quoted Confucius, who once advised to study the past if one would define the future. Courant said while U-M officials are confident this year’s graduates will shape the future, they also believe lessons and examples from the past “will be valuable touchstones for them” as they contribute to communities around the world.”

“In that spirit and in recognition of 2017 as the University’s bicentennial year, our ceremony today draws upon our 200-year history and recognizes recent alumni who exemplify the University’s commitment to shaping and serving society,” Courant said.

2017 Bicentennial Alumni Awards 

  • Candice Yee-June Chang (BS, ’01, architecture, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; BFA, ’01, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, graphic design), creator behind the public art piece “Before I Die.”
  • Christopher Paul Curtis (BA, ’00, general studies, UM-Flint), author of “The Watsons Go to Birmingham,” recipient of the Newberry Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor.
  • Abdul M. El-Sayed (BS, ’07, political science and biology, LSA and Medical School), former Detroit Health Department executive director and health officer.
  • Carol Jantsch (BFA, ’06, SMTD), principal tuba of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
  • Cynthia Koenig (MSe, ’06, School of Natural Resources and Environment; MBA, ’11, Stephen M. Ross School of Business), founder and CEO of Wello, an award-winning social venture that co-creates disruptive innovations designed to provide better, more reliable access to safe water.
  • Annie Maxwell (BA, ’00, LSA; MPP, ’02, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy), president of Skoll Global Threats Fund.
  • Babak Parviz (MSE, ’97, College of Engineering; PhD, ’01, CoE), creator of Google Glass and former director at Google X.
  • Benj Pasek (BA, ’06, SMTD) and Justin Paul (BFA, ’06, SMTD), a Golden Globe- and Oscar-winning songwriting team.
  • Damon A. Williams (PhD, ’02, School of Education, Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education), senior VP at the Boys & Girls Club of America.

This story originally appeared in The University Record, the official source for faculty-staff news at the University of Michigan.


  1. Lynn Swanson - 1976

    Enjoyed the article, but shouldn’t the headline read,”… years or fewer”?


    • Deborah Holdship

      Yes, I’ve since corrected that blurb. And I should know better, since MT ran an actual piece about this very thing: “Less vs. fewer,” by Anne Curzan.


  2. Howard Iwrey - A.B. 1983; J.D. 1986

    I enjoyed the student video. However, nearly all of the parents and graduates with whom I spoke agreed that the rest of the commencement ceremony was a disappointment, particularly because of the lack of a speaker. There is no doubt the we are extremely proud of what the University of Michigan has accomplished in its first 200 years. The commencement ceremony was not the appropriate forum to focus solely on the past and on others. A commencement ceremony provides the opportunity to congratulate and inspire the graduates themselves — it is their day. That was not accomplished. In fact, the other video (which also suffered from technical problems) featuring, among other things, great past commencement speakers, underscored this deficiency.


Leave a comment: