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Actor and Michigan native Jeff Daniels challenges graduates to make a difference at Winter Commencement

Sam Wolson/Daily
Actor Jeff Daniels speaks at Winter Commencment on Sunday. Buy this photo

BY JOSEPH LICHTERMAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 20, 2009

Thousands cheered on their loved ones at Crisler Arena Sunday as students graduated from the University at Winter Commencement.

Actor Jeff Daniels delivered the commencement address and was also awarded an honorary degree during the ceremony. Legendary White House correspondent Helen Thomas, Harvard professor and ant biology specialist Edward Wilson and civil rights activist Grace Boggs also received honorary degrees.

Every college in the University awarded doctoral, masters and bachelor of arts and science degrees to mark the students’ completion of studies.

The University of Michigan Commencement Band opened the ceremony by playing the Star Spangled Banner and closed it with "The Yellow and Blue" and "The Victors". The Men's Glee Club preformed as well.

University President Mary Sue Coleman lauded the graduates as they reached this milestone in their lives.

“You depart the University with countless memories and lessons. Experiences that you will carry forward into your graduate studies, your professional careers and your personal lives,” Coleman said.

Daniels, who is well-known primarily for his work in both theatre and film — most notably acting in movies like “Dumb and Dumber” and “The Squid and the Whale” — is a Michigan native who currently lives in his hometown of Chelsea, which is a short drive down I-94 from Ann Arbor.

During his address to the graduates, Daniels spoke emphatically of how it is necessary for graduates to pursue worthwhile interests and make an impact.

“I ask of you, whatever it is you do, decide to do something that is your life’s work, that is your passion,” Daniels said. “That means something to you. This world is full of people who aren’t doing that. Don’t be one of those.”

After he concluded his remarks, Daniels grabbed his guitar and played “The Michigan in Me” a song he wrote about his home state. Daniels told the audience he played the song at Coleman’s request.

Regent Denise Ilitch (D – Bingham Farms) applauded Daniels for his commitment to the state as she presented him with his honorary degree. Daniels founded the Purple Rose Theater Company in his Chelsea and is a spokesman for the Pure Michigan Campaign that aims to promote tourism in the state.

“Your boundless creativity is matched by your abiding devotion to the state of Michigan, which you have enhanced through your extensive cultural contributions and your presence as a national spokesperson for the cultural and economic development of our state," Ilitch told Daniels as she presented him with his honorary degree.

In addition to Coleman and Daniels, LSA senior Vikrum Vora also addressed the graduates as the ceremony’s student speaker. He told his fellow graduates that they should not take the easiest routes in life, but rather follow a more arduous path that will reap greater benefits and rewards.

He compared his message to a wolverine digging through a garbage can for food, adding that the wolverine isn’t satisfied with the trash at the top of the can.

“Just as the wolverine in the trashcan does, shake that can, shake it as hard as you can,” Vora said, “Because if life doesn’t shake you up, or you don’t shake it up, how can you ever expect to get to the tasty BTB Burrito that’s waiting for you at the bottom?”