Cameras flashed, families cheered and beaming graduates donned in gowns and sashes proudly accepted their diplomas at the Crisler Center Sunday afternoon, leaving the University to join the ranks of leaders and best across the globe.

The 2012 Winter Commencement ceremony celebrated the graduates’ current accomplishments and looked toward the future.

University alum Raynard S. Kington, the keynote speaker and president of Grinnell College, told grads that these futures must involve embracing the unknown.

“I believe it’s OK to admit that you do not know the answers,” Kington said to the crowd. “Admitting incomplete knowledge is not a sign of failure. Failure only comes when you stop trying to find the answers.”

Kington said the University gives students knowledge, but does not give them the answers to life’s most pressing questions. For these, he said, students must stay curious, adaptable and persistent.

“Not knowing is part of the human experience,” Kington said. “That funny feeling of not knowing must be followed by the impulse to wonder why and to look for answers. This is what leaders do.”

He ended his remarks acknowledging a University education has undoubtedly equipped students with the ability to understand and question what they do not know.

“I leave you with my best wishes, and my greatest hopes,” Kington concluded. “May you prosper.”

University Provost Philip Hanlon, who recently was elected the next president of Dartmouth College, asked the graduating class to reflect on their time at the University. He said the school’s wide breadth of opportunities, cultural diversity, service experiences and leadership training would help them going forward.

“Michigan graduates not only engage in public discourse and debate on issues facing the world, Michigan graduates actually shape the discourse,” Hanlon said. “They point the way forward.”

University President Mary Sue Coleman discussed the unceasing passion and tenacity of the graduates. Referencing the current divisive political climate and discouraging employment opportunities, Coleman said it was understandable for students to be anxious and even jaded about the future.

She then spoke of Raoul Wallenberg — a Swedish alum and humanitarian who helped free 100,000 Jews from Nazi concentration camps — as a shining example of what a University alum can accomplish even in the midst of a terrible situation.

“Like Raoul Wallenberg you cannot imagine the challenges that will await you, you cannot predict how you will react,” Coleman said. “(But) believe that you, like Wallenberg … can and will make a difference in transforming our state, our nation and our world with your ideas and actions.”

LSA graduate Katharine Stockrahm gave the remarks on behalf of the students, where she detailed the “blood, sweat and tears” that went in to earning her University degree, focusing on the memories made along the way.

“People always talk about the ‘Michigan Difference,’ as if it could be defined simply by a carefully selected string of words,” Stockrahm said. “I’m here to say it’s really a collection of experiences.”

Kington and five others — ranging from a playwright to United States Appeals Court judge — received honorary degrees from the University and the Board of Regents.

After the ceremony, graduates received bouquets of flowers, balloons and stuffed animals from smiling friends and family members. Some hugged relatives, children and spouses, while others sought out friends to say final goodbyes.

Taking a break from family photos and tearful hugs, Joe B. Brown, the father of Engineering graduate Luree Brown, said he dedicated himself to educating his daughter, and has looked forward to her graduation day.

“I felt it was very special when the University of Michigan wanted her to be here,” Brown said. “To see her complete it is inspiring for me.”

Public Health graduate Katie Fata said she thought the ceremony was touching, but can’t wait to start the next chapter of her life.

“I’m excited to get my career and life started, and move on from college,” Fata said.

LSA graduate Brielle Edwards, who is taking a year to work at a law firm before graduate school, said she knows her University degree will ensure her a place in a top law school.

“I know that a lot of law schools, when they see the name U of M, it rings bells,” Edwards said. “I think that’ll benefit me in numerous ways … I feel very excited.”

Kinesiology senior Jahred Rapin said he is staying in Ann Arbor to join the New Life Church to “spread the good news” after graduation.

“I’ve had more life experiences … that have prepared me for what I’m about to do,” Rapin said.

As students and families left Crisler, continuing on to celebratory dinners and uncertain futures, President Coleman’s parting words were still present in the minds — and hearts — of many.

“For today, goodbye. For tomorrow, good luck. Forever, go blue.”

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