It’s true that I admire most of the spirit, rhetoric and tradition of this University. I never walk on the Block M in the Diag and I would propose under the West Engineering arch at midnight if I could someday. I fully believe providing education of arts, sciences and truth is essential and noble. But some traditions are flawed. For example, one phrase I take issue with comes from the line in our fight song that ends with, “…the Leaders and Best.” It’s a great line, but we as college students aren’t the “leaders and best” yet because we haven’t exercised leadership and excellence in the real world, where it matters most. Even if what we do now already has an impact outside of campus, it doesn’t justify the title of “leaders and best.” What we do now is the bare minimum citizenship requires. The work we do here as students is still valuable but it should not be all that we aspire to accomplish.
I think the pomposity that comes with slogans like “leaders and best” is dangerous. We, especially those of us graduating this year, are walking into a lion’s den of a world. We must address domestic issues like Social Security reform, class conflict and accessibility to health care among dozens of other meticulous, complicated issues. As people of the world, we must deal with bio-terrorism, overpopulation, climate change, water shortage and nuclear arms proliferation, to name only a handful of challenges. These problems don’t have easy fixes. I fear our University of Michigan arrogance distracts us from the treacherous road ahead and how hard it’s really going to be. We have too many challenges ahead to be delusional about our accomplishments, abilities and entitlements.
Our generation already has a bad rap. We’re narcissistic. We insist on having things our way and struggle with taking criticism in stride. We lack professionalism and the ability to follow through when problem solving. We feel entitled to anything we may want when we don’t necessarily deserve it.
But at the same time, our generation has amazing qualities. We’re tremendously capable, curious and technologically savvy. We’re able to work in diverse groups of people like no generation before us. We’re ambitious and we also volunteer a lot. We care about the world around us and want to make this planet a better place in any way we can. Nobody can tell us we aren’t fired up, because we are.
We have a befuddling situation before us. We have the opportunity to be one of the greatest generations, and I believe we can face our challenges and live up to our aspirations of a better society. We’ll have to rally together and overcome our differences while still taking advantage of our diverse perspectives and talents. We’ll need to have long, arduous, frustrating conversations with each other to figure out the best courses of action. We’ll each have a role to play, one no more important than any other.
As University students, let’s focus on earning our maize and blue colors. Before we start calling ourselves the leaders and best, let’s have an unbreakable will to overcome the challenges we face. Let’s be brave enough to believe in what is right, courageous enough to commit to what is right and unselfish enough to do what is right. If we advance the public good, there is no doubt that we will become the leaders and best.
Neil Tambe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.