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Graduates celebrate and cheer with their hands in the air.

The University of Michigan’s Spring 2022 commencement featured an aerial exhibit of the “Hail to the Victims” movement, the awarding of five honorary degrees and journalist Maria Shriver as commencement speaker — all within the confines of the Big House on Saturday for the University’s first fully in-person commencement ceremony since 2019. 

Nearly an hour before the ceremony began, a banner reading “Hail to the Victims” flew above the stadium to express solidarity with survivors of sexual assault. In an April 27 press statement obtained by The Michigan Daily, the coalition of U-M faculty, survivors and allies who sponsored the banner wrote that they wanted to signal support for survivors of sexual assault on the University’s campus.

Five members of the coalition jointly wrote the press statement: Art & Design professor Rebekah Modrak, U-M alum and Bruce Conforth survivor Isabelle Brourman, U-M researcher Jane Hassinger, U-M alum Cassie McQuater and Jon Vaughn. The statement alleged that Interim University President Mary Sue Coleman was complicit in sexual assault crimes at the University, citing a 2020 report from the law firm WilmerHale that alleged then-President Coleman had been aware of allegations of sexual misconduct by former Provost Martin Philbert as early as 2010.

“Interim President Coleman is without question implicated in contributing to and sustaining the pattern of denial and cover-up of the crimes of sexual assault and harassment at the University of Michigan,” the statement reads. “Despite her claims that she is in dialogue with survivors, she has refused to meet with (Robert) Anderson or Conforth survivors.” 

In an interview with The Daily, 2022 U-M graduate Morgan Jonas said seeing the banner spread awareness about the “Hail to the Victims” movement was inspiring.

“It’s really empowering to see men taking a stance, taking back their life, protesting and taking action upon it,” Jonas said. “I feel for them, I feel for their story. I hope they are doing well and love what they are doing here.”

The ceremony kicked off at 10 A.M. with a rendition of Flor Peeters’ Entrata, followed by a performance of the national anthem. University Provost Susan M. Collins gave the welcome speech, reflecting on the challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, that the University and its graduating students have faced over the past few years.

“As we’ve learned over the past two years, persistence contributes to resilience and to innovation,” Collins said. “Through this very challenging time, you’ve kept working often in new ways, and we’re so proud of all you’ve accomplished: you adjusted to virtual education and welcomed ways that enabled you to connect with people around the world.”

University Regent Katherine White (D) then presented Collins with the Regents’ Citation of Honor for her work as University Provost. White said the award is presented to those who made extraordinary contributions to the university, adding that the Board of Regents unanimously voted at their March board meeting to honor Collins for her service and dedication to the University. Collins will leave the University later this year to become the next president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Coleman congratulated the 2022 graduating class in her address and encouraged graduates to prioritize their happiness and health as they continue on with their lives.

“I want to believe these difficult days also have brought some clarity to the dilemma of what should matter in your lives,” Coleman said. “That course correction we have undergone has given greater emphasis to balance in careers and lives. Happiness, health, family: this is what truly matters … Whatever your choice is, seek out and celebrate your happiness.”

Coleman awarded honorary U-M doctorate degrees to five individuals: record producer Berry Gordy, historian Thomas C. Holt, computer scientist Maria Klawe, former U-M Director of Athletics William C. Martin and journalist Maria Shriver

In her commencement address, Shriver emphasized the importance of bravery and standing up in the face of fear.

“You are a generation in pursuit of the truth, and we need your energy, your work ethic, your creativity and your drive,” Shriver said. “We need you to unite our country — that so desperately needs to be united — with your thoughts, your words and your deeds. Because all of this work… it’s for those who are afraid, but take action anyway. It will be accomplished by those who are brave, by those who are bold and those who are Blue.”

2022 U-M graduate Zackariah Farah discussed his thoughts on the theme of empowering student voices in the graduation speeches and said this was contradictory to how the University’s administration has responded to campus issues. 

“I appreciated a lot of the messages that the speakers were trying to convey, but it does feel a bit hypocritical sometimes, or did feel hypocritical rather, to hear some of our administrators say things that were so different than what they had done,” Farah said. “The administrators were talking about morality, they were talking about making the world a better place, a safer place. Speaking truth to power when I think often they would shut down the students for trying to do that.” 

Farah said he believes the University’s administration must listen to the campus community when it comes to issues like sexual assault and said he was happy to see the “Hail to the Victims” banner flown above the stadium where U-M administrators could see it.

“There’s so many different cases of sexual misconduct and assault on campus,” Farah said. “I saw the ‘Hail to the Victims’ banner being towed by that plane around and around the stadium. I was very happy to see that once again, our administrators are forced to listen to what happened or listen to the survivors.”

In his address, Engineering professor Allen Liu discussed the role of education in establishing peace and the new graduates’ responsibility to use their education for good.

“Your education at the University of Michigan ultimately prepares you to be a critical inquisitive thinker,” Liu said. “As you enter the society as a Michigan graduate to embark on your chosen careers, you carry a social responsibility to advocate and promote civil discourse. This is a fundamental value that we all must share to support societal goods and to achieve peace.”

The deans and deans’ representatives of each school and college within the University presented the baccalaureate candidates of their respective schools, inviting the graduates to stand and be recognized by attendees.

2022 U-M graduate Raphael Rosal said he felt ecstatic experiencing the graduation in an interview with The Daily.

“I feel I finally got this weight off my shoulders because it’s been a long four years here and to be able to see my friends and family come here and support me means the world to me,” Rosal said. “I know they’ve been there the whole way so actually seeing them in person, after all those years during (COVID-19), is just amazing.” 

In an interview with The Daily, 2022 U-M graduate James Huang said he was excited to finally graduate, something he had been anticipating for several years. 

“It just kind of feels unreal because you always imagine this happening and then you don’t really see it actually happening and once it does, you’re like, ‘Wow I actually made it this far’,” Huang said. “The goal of today is to live in the moment and absorb what happened.”

The ceremony featured four graduating students as speakers: Nicholas Brdar, Lindsay Anderson, Noor Moughni and Mingxuan Sun. Brdar discussed how his time at the University taught him about resilience.

“Michigan is a place where we grew, where we prospered, and displayed an unimaginable amount of resilience,” Brdar said. “It’s this resilience that gives me the utmost confidence that whatever life throws at us and wherever we go we will overcome those challenges, we will change the world, and we will go blue.”

Summer News Editors Irena Li and Nirali Patel can be reached at irenayli@umich.edu and nirpat@umich.edu.