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Nearly 1,000 University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students gathered in Crisler Center Sunday afternoon for the winter commencement ceremony. Students in attendance heard from several faculty members as well as Lynn Conway, a University professor emerita, engineer and transgender activist, who delivered the keynote speech. They all emphasized the value of giving back to the community, as well as being able to adapt to changes in one’s life and in the world.
University Provost Martin Philbert began the ceremony by expressing his hopes for the 2018 graduating class.
“You are ready now to move to new places, new jobs and new friendships,” Philbert said. “As you do so, we hope that you will take with you the commitment to learning and growing that has been part of your life here at the University of Michigan.”
Graduating LSA senior Jiten Parbhoo delivered a message of giving back to society in his address to the 2018 class.
“Most of us want to help other people, but struggle with how to do so,” Parbhoo said. “The fact is, I believe that each one of you already positively impacts the world by the way you live your lives, by being true to yourself and your values.”
In addressing the 2018 graduating class, University President Mark Schlissel mirrored the necessity of being adaptable to a rapidly changing world.
“A Michigan education — what sets our university apart, and what now sets you apart — is about preparing you to confront challenges and scales that range from the personal, to the local, to the global,” Schlissel said. “It’s about change: promoting it and being comfortable with it.”
During the ceremony, honorary degrees were awarded to four people who encapsulated Parbhoo’s message of generosity and paying it forward. Among those honored were Rita Dove, an essayist and former poet laureate of the United States, Jim Hackett, the CEO of Ford Motor Company and Elizabeth Nabel, a pioneer in cardiology and former director of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Research center.
Conway also received an honorary degree for her innovation in the field of computer science and her work as a transgender activist. As an engineer, Conway is credited with the invention of generalized dynamic instruction handling, an innovation which is now used in modern computer processors. Conway faced adversity early on in her career, specifically due to her identity as a transgender woman. While working as a lead engineer at IBM in the 1960s, she was ultimately fired after revealing her intentions to begin transitioning. In her keynote speech, she emphasized the importance of perseverance.
University Regent Shauna Ryder Diggs, who presented the honorary degree, commended Conway on her positive social impact.
“Through your advocacy, you have shown young people misgendered at birth that they can excel at the highest levels personally and professionally,” Diggs said.
In her keynote address, Conway also centered her message around a series of quotes and lessons which she explained have influenced her in times of difficulty.
“I realize that my guides have been sets of special words, left by people whose life stories have deeply touched me and whose words resonated with me even more deeply as I aged,” Conway said.
Emphasizing the importance of adaptability, for instance, Conway cited the words of philosopher Eric Hoffer, stating, “in a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.”
During her address, Conway also spoke about the quickly evolving world students would face upon graduating, and the importance of being able to adapt to its changes.
“You’re embarking in an era of accelerating social change,” Conway said. “You’ll encounter increasingly diverse, often conflicting ways of thinking.”