Two years ago, I was at the spring commencement where President Barack Obama spoke. Even though I was in high school, I was excited at the prospect of seeing Obama at such an important event. How many chances do you get to see a president give a commencement address? Especially a president who is famous for his uplifting and hope-inducing speeches. I waited in the rain that day, went to the upper reaches of the Big House, and then the president began to speak. To this day, I can’t remember what he spoke about, but all I know was that I was not uplifted at all. My sister, who was a graduate that day, said she appreciated the message. But she, too, was left unsatisfied. Where was the hope that Obama promised?
It has been almost 20 years since Sanjay Gupta was a student here at the University. That’s a long time. I haven’t even been alive for that long. Gupta is a Michigan original. He completed his high school education at nearby Novi High School, his undergraduate degree, his M.D. and he even finished his residency here in Ann Arbor. Currently, he’s the chief medical correspondent at CNN, hosting his own show entitled “Sanjay Gupta, M.D.,” and is a highly respected neurosurgeon at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where he also serves on the staff of the Emory University Medical School. This commencement speaker is, as Mary Sue Coleman said, a reminder of the potential that the Michigan degree gives each and every one of us.
Due to the economic downturn, it has been more difficult in recent years for University graduates to get jobs. Despite the fantastic education we receive here in Ann Arbor, there just aren’t enough opportunities in the world today for all these students to get a position. There’s a decided gloom around students who have graduated in recent years — so many have indeterminate futures.
Enter Sanjay Gupta. Gupta represents the epitome of the Michigan difference. He has ascended to the top of his field, and even transcended it, making the shift to reporting as easily as making a precise incision into gray matter. As talented as he is, he made an extremely difficult transition seem relatively easy. I’m not suggesting that every pre-med here at Michigan will become a top reporter or an anchor for the most famous name in news. But if the best the University can offer succeeded so much, there’s hope for the rest of us down below to at least find a place in the world, however less glorious it may be.
By selecting Gupta as the next commencement speaker, the University’s Board of Regents project an image of internal pride. After making a political statement the past two years, with Obama in 2010 and Republican Governor Rick Snyder in 2011, the University is going back to its roots. It selected a true Michigan Man, one born, raised and educated within an hour of the Ann Arbor campus. Who couldn’t take pride in that?
I left the Big House on that rainy day in May the same as I came in. Excited about junior prom, nervous about upcoming AP tests and excited about hearing Obama speak. I still remember that before Obama himself came to the podium, there was a video display of all the past presidential luminaries to come speak at Michigan. Images of Gerald Ford during his time here at the University flashed on the screen. John F. Kennedy speaking on the steps of the Union, announcing his plan for the Peace Corps during his 1960 campaign for president, raised rousing applause. Lyndon B. Johnson, detailing his desire for the Great Society, was met with applause as well. George H.W. Bush didn’t receive as much applause as the others, but still carried with him a feeling of awe. Bill and Hillary Clinton were among the favorites in recent years. Even Kofi Annan was appreciated by the crowd. I’m not saying Obama wasn’t appreciated. He just didn’t have the same weight with him as the others did. There was no feeling of awe, of unified emotion, of pure hope that accompanied so many of his other speeches. It felt as if he came to give a simple speech, not to inspire the next generation of graduates to something special.
I picked up The Michigan Daily on Monday, and saw the headline announcing Gupta as commencement speaker. I couldn’t explain the feeling, but it wasn’t even just hope. It was something more. It was the same feeling I had watching the presidents of the past speak at Michigan.
Let’s just hope Gupta meets the expectations.
Nirbhay Jain is an LSA freshman.