Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) discussed the responsibilities of being an American citizen during her speech at the School of Public Policy commencement Saturday evening.
“There is not a more powerful title that we share than that of citizen,” Stabenow said. “Through your identity as a citizen of this country, you have a voice and a responsibility to be engaged in the important debates all around us.”
Stabenow delivered her speech to a crowd composed of more than 700 graduates and audience members in Rackham Auditorium. She said being an American citizen is a shared identity, and is the common ground Public Policy students should navigate to solve problems in society.
“We get so wrapped up in politics, that too often we forget why we have this democracy and this government,” she said. “We have it because there are certain things we need to do together, because it’s impossible to do it by ourselves.”
Stabenow also emphasized that working together, even with opponents, is vital in bettering society.
“We really have to listen to each other, respect each other’s views and find common ground,” she said. “If we can stay focused on our rights and responsibilities as citizens then we can have the debates that are necessary to find common ground on the most challenging issues that face us.”
Stabenow noted several tasks that will require collaborative work, from preserving the Great Lakes, to performing groundbreaking medical research.
“We do these things together because, one way or another, we all benefit,” Stabenow said. “We have the responsibility of tackling all of these together, and more, through the democratic process called government and public policy.”
Stabenow’s remarks on American citizenship garnered mixed reviews from the graduating class, particularly because the Public Policy School’s community includes many international students whose families were in the audience during Stabenow’s speech.
Kristina Campa-Gruca, a public policy graduate student, said she felt Stabenow’s remarks about American citizenship were misplaced.
“I’m not quite sure Debbie Stabenow understood who her audience was,” she said. “I actually kind of found it offensive to some of the families in the audience who were neither American-identified, nor American citizens.”
Marissa Solomon, a Public Policy graduate, said she enjoyed Stabenow’s speech, but thought she may have been mistaken to assume everyone in the audience was an American citizen.
“I do think it was kind of presumptuous to assume that everyone is an American citizen in there,” Solomon said. “The dean said right before her speech that we have multiple international students, and even some international students aren’t American citizens.”
During her address to the graduates, Public Policy Dean Susan Collins elaborated on Stabenow’s remarks, discussing how Public Policy School alums have contributed to society.
“Our alumni are leaders in serving in public office or managing campaigns,” she said. “They’re helping rebuild Detroit. They’re leaders in homeland security and international aid. Those are the talented and courageous people who are tackling the big problems for the next half century, and that’s the group that you are joining as an alumnus of the Ford School.”
She also charged the graduates to take their place in shaping the changes of world.
“I want Ford School alumni to shape that change and I believe we have prepared you to do just that,” Collins said. “We provide our students the analytic and creative skills to harness the complexity of the 21st-century society.”