Thousands of students stood, cheered and cried in the bleachers of Michigan Stadium Saturday as administrators and family members recognized their collective achievements and new affiliation to the University. After accomplishing a task that, at times, may have seemed impossible, the Class of 2002 emerged from the stadium as University graduates.
“Today marks the successful completion of four very important years of your life,” LSA Dean Shirley Neuman said during the commencement ceremony, while encouraging the former students to remember all that they learned during their time at the University. “At moments such as this, when you step out unto your life … remember the words (of author Mary Oliver): ‘Tell me, what is it that you are meant to do with this one wild and precious life?'”
Some students preferred to hold off on answering the question, and RC graduate Marit Dewhurst, the selected student speaker, rose to the podium and told the audience of 30,000 about her packing and unpacking experiences during the last four years.
“We are packing again,” Dewhurst said. “Suddenly, we realized that it is April, and that we are no longer counting the boxes – we are counting the days.”
Dewhurst, a leader of Project SERVE, also talked about the experiences that made the last four years of her life memorable and the people that help turned Ann Arbor into her home. Among those experiences were “signing up for all the lists at Festifall … committing yourself to a concentration, and then committing yourself to another one … hanging up on the CRISP lady for the last time … falling in love, falling out of love, falling asleep in the grass on the Diag on the first day of the Michigan spring.” she said.
Interim University President B. Joseph White remarked on the one incident that separated this year’s graduating class from those of the years before – Sept. 11, 2001. White called the terrorist attacks “a non-elective course which you never chose … but we also took a refresher course in the power of love and hope (and) our individual ability to make a difference.”
He also said the events, though tragic, proved to him that the Class of 2002 could respond and survive any event that may come their way.
The pinnacle of the ceremony came from guest speaker and honorary degree recipient William Gray, president of the United Negro College Fund, who spoke to the graduates about future challenges awaiting them.
Gray urged students to widen the doorway to education, maintain sensitivity toward others and to remember there is no final station in life, only the trip.
“Regret and fear are the twin themes who rob us of today,” he said. “Climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often. Life must be lived. … drink more beer, party more, and go blue.”