A grandparent is a gift, and for the first 22 years of my life, I was blessed by my relationship with my grandfather, Mike Wallace. A grandparent’s knowledge is often lost on us. They come from a different era, and are shaped by different events and expectations. Often, there is little in common to bond and connect over. I, however, was lucky to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and attend the University of Michigan. Throughout my life, the University bridged the 71-year age gap that separated my grandfather and me.
All of us are constantly reminded that the University community connects students and alumni alike. We encounter it when we wear a Michigan hat and a stranger yells “Go Blue!” My Michigan connection began in 1935 when Mike Wallace first arrived in Ann Arbor. He grew up here. His long career in journalism began when curiosity got the best of him, and he wandered into the University’s radio station. The rest, they say, is history.
Mike went on to interview every president from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton. In the wake of the Iranian hostage crisis, he sparred with Ayatollah Khomeini. The civil rights leaders he interviewed, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, inspired him. His career stretched from the newsroom of The Michigan Daily in the 1930s to the Iranian Presidential Palace in 2006 when he questioned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an interview that resulted in his 21st and final Emmy Award.
But even after all the interviews, all the pointed questions and all the accolades and awards that followed his journalism career, he still was drawn back to Ann Arbor. He gave back to the University that marked the start of his career, not because he had to, but because he wanted to. Because he loved this school and appreciated all that it did for him.
When Mike and my grandmother Mary donated the house for the Knight-Wallace Fellows at Michigan, it was not an empty handout to the University. Rather, I saw it as an encouragement to others to engage their curiosity — much in the same way he did when he wandered into the radio station. The fellowship he proudly supported affords world-renowned journalists the opportunity to come study and live at the University, with the expectation that their year at this school will spur growth on a personal and professional level.
His love of Michigan was not a guarded secret. He lauded the University of Michigan as a “top rate academic institution,” he celebrated our football team and shared his passion for the school with his grandchildren. His love for this school transcended the more than 70 years that separated us in age, and I have come to love the University for many of the same reasons he did. Mike Wallace was the start of my Michigan community. From the moment I was born to the day he passed away, this University connected us in shared memories and humbled admiration.
Lowell Bourgeois is an LSA senior and is Mike Wallace’s grandson.