The crowds flocking to Michigan Stadium on Saturday morning were reminiscent of football Saturdays, with a few notable differences. The students substituted maize and blue attire with black caps and gowns. The chorus of “Hail to the Victors” came after a flurry of mortarboards, not a touchdown. And when they emerged from Michigan Stadium, they were no longer undergraduate students.
Spring commencement ceremonies celebrated the graduation of about 6,000 students in front of an audience of about 30,000.
Commencement speakers dispensed advice and delved into the graduates” collective memories.
Student speaker Michael Stromayer recounted the quintessential undergraduate experience close living quarters, early morning conversations, football Saturdays. “We were part of the magic, the lyrics, the history,” he said.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky said the ceremony symbolized the graduates” initiation into a new realm of human life and the graduates symbolized a link in a long chain of people, drawing from the experiences of those who came before them and contributing to the shaping of those still to come.
He said he believes that graduates assume a wiser position because they are no longer the clueless youths to be protected and taught they must now teach, protect and prepare a world for future generations.
Every generation can not only live up to the standards set by its predecessors but can surpass them, Pinsky said. “The most important thing we can do is to pass it on.”
Graduates said what they were taking away from their time at the University went beyond their class load, often stressing that the friends they made will soon scatter across the continent for jobs and post-graduate studies.
LSA graduate James Szymanski said he would treasure the friends he made at the University but “it”s more of a celebration for the family.”
Caroline Lee came from Pittsburgh to see her daughter, Dominique Lee, graduate. “I”m ecstatic,” she said. “This is a new beginning for her, but I consider her a survivor. She”s the one who did all the work, she”s the one who went though all the trials and tribulations.” She said her role had been one of support.
Napoleon Simpson, whose daughter, Erika, graduated, said the past four years were filled with “a lot of gas, a lot of money and a lot of mileage. It was nice though.”
Honorary degrees were awarded to Pinsky, Detroit Pistons” owner William Davidson, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Bill Ivey, political activist Adam Michnik and University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Marshall Sahlins.