Several distinguished alumni, including Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN, actor Darren Criss and Cecilia Muñoz, former director for White House Domestic Policy Council, each touched on their own personal connections to the University of Michigan at the True Blue! event Saturday night.
Over 3,500 students, faculty and alumni filled Hill Auditorium to watch the array of multi-media performances that accompanied the speakers examine the University’s numerous contributions to the arts, science, athletics and social justice throughout history. In between speakers, student groups such as Michigan Men’s Glee Club, the University Chamber Choir and the Michigan Marching Band performed songs such as “I Remember, My Michigan” and “The Victors” that were composed by accomplished alumni.
LSA freshman Jack Alcantara, show participant, said he got involved with Men’s Glee Club because of his familial ties to it — his dad was also a member. He noted the size of the crowd, as well as how audience members reacted to the musical performances.
“True Blue was really great,” Alcantara said. “That was one of the larger crowds I think I've ever performed in front of. ‘Glory’ felt particularly strong. It's a great feeling when you perform a song and it goes over with the crowd as well as it did (that night).”
As Darren Criss, event emcee, took the stage, he reminded the audience of the University’s prevalence on Broadway. A 2009 graduate, Criss achieved prominence on the hit TV show, “Glee,” where he portrayed an openly gay student and singer. He now stars in a national tour of the musical “Hedwig and The Angry Inch.”
“Every time I look to see a Broadway show, even without knowing it, there's about an 80 percent chance there are at least two Michigan graduates in it,” he said.
Criss’s hosting brought many students, such as LSA freshman Caylin Luebeck, to the event, who then found much more.
“The show definitely surprised me — it included a lot more of a variety of performances than I expected,” Luebeck said “My favorite part, that's hard. It was probably when the Men's Glee Club sung ‘Glory’ from ‘Selma.’ It was a very powerful and moving performance.”
Parts of the show also included video interviews of alumni who fell in love at the University, a “Dear Squirrel” video about the squirrels on the Diag and a video tribute to notable University professors. There was even a segment highlighting the role of the Diag in students’ lives.
“Oh, the Diag,” Criss said. “Separation between Church and State. Literally, as in our streets.”
One such professor, Ralph Williams, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus of English, touched on how Ann Arbor acts as a place where people of all races, religions and backgrounds can come together and share their stories.
“The story of us not a single story, but the stories of all of us who have been part of its history,” Williams said. “Michigan belongs to us, and in a deep way, we belong to it. Being a part of its history expands each of us across the whole globe.”
Many of the University’s sports legends were also honored, including former NFL player Desmond Howard, Fab Five members Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, former basketball player Diane Dietz and former softball player Sierra Romero.
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh made an appearance as well, giving a speech referencing former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler’s notable speech, “The Team.” Harbaugh spoke on improving race relations as well as the importance of remembering how everyone, regardless of background, is on the same team.
“Over the past century, the University has reformed its outlook on races relations and civil rights,” Harbaugh said. “True leadership is standing up behalf of the marginalized to always do what is right.”
James Toy, founder of the Spectrum Center, Muñoz and Douglas Scott, founder of Environmental Action for Survival, also spoke.
Scott graduated from the University in 1966 after years of participating in protests during his time at the University.
“As a graduate student in the School of Natural Resources (and Environment), I was one of the small group that decided to plan what became the largest environmental teach-in,” Scott said. “Once again, the University of Michigan led the way for American social progress.”
Muñoz, a third-generation Wolverine, has a long history at the University of Michigan in her family. Muñoz graduated in 1984 and is the former director of White House Domestic Policy Council.
“In all, the Muñoz family has had someone at Michigan every decade, for 100 years,” Muñoz said. “I grew up in the Detroit area in a nearly all white neighborhood. At Michigan, I learned firsthand about the positive impact of blending cultures.”
Right before the Michigan Marching Band broke into “Victors Valiant,” University President Mark Schlissel closed the event with a speech referencing the University’s far-reaching contributions to society, both on earth and in space.
“On this stage and all around the world, we see that the University’s stars are everywhere,” Schlissel said. “They're succeeding in every discipline and pushing the frontiers of discovery and imagination into the night sky and beyond.”