When first asked to deliver the University of Michigan’s 2022 spring kickoff speech, Maria Shriver said she declined.
She was afraid of walking into Michigan Stadium, embarrassing her sons, and having nothing memorable or valuable to say to the graduates.
After some thought, however, she phoned President Mary Sue Coleman and accepted the offer.
“I strongly believe in facing your fears head-on,” the award-winning journalist, author and former first lady of California told graduates, seated in tight rows before her on the grounds of Big House on April 30.
“Failing to overcome your fear, not overcoming what scares you, will make you feel like you are not brave. It will leave you with an unrealized, unsatisfied version of yourself. And believe me, graduates, it is something to fear.
The debut exercises for the approximately 14,000 eligible graduates took place under cloudy but dry skies with steady, sometimes gusty winds. After two years in which there was no launch event or limited in-person celebration due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 release had a more traditional and familiar vibe.
Graduates faced the stage in the north end area and guests filled 27 sections of the U-shaped stands around them. Their joy in celebrating the end of their undergraduate studies was evident. Large video screens captured screams, smiles and waves whenever a camera got close enough.
Shriver addressed the graduates for 20 minutes, after receiving an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. She encouraged them to do what she did – face their fears – and reminded them that fear can appear at any stage of their life, regardless of what they have accomplished.
“To really know who you are, you can’t hide,” she said.
She urged graduates not to wait to pursue passions that make them feel alive.
“Your generation has been given a shredded rulebook, an open field as a gift,” she said. “Much of what was once called normal is out the window. This uncertain moment that you and our world face is an incredible opportunity for you.
“And those fears that you may be feeling, they’re actually a window into your own bravery, and this moment that we’re all in is a moment for the brave.”
Shriver said she addressed her fears through meditation, expressive writing, faith and therapy. One of the biggest cheers in her speech came when she told graduates never to let anyone tell them that therapy is for the weak, but rather for the strong.
“You are so much stronger than you can ever imagine, and the best way to access that strength that lives within you is to do whatever you’re afraid of, right now after graduation and beyond. future,” she said.
She ended with a pep talk before the students officially became alumni.
“Straighten your shoulders, hold your head up high, and walk through hell like you own the place,” she said.
In addition to Shriver, the other honorary degree recipients this year are:
- Berry Gordy, songwriter, producer, entrepreneur and founder of the Motown label, Doctor of Music.
- Thomas Cleveland Holt, historian and college professor, Doctor of Humane Letters.
- William C. Martin, former athletic director of UM, founder and president of the Bank of Ann Arbor, Doctor of Laws.
- Maria M. Klawe, computer scientist, scholar and president of Harvey Mudd College, Ph.D.
- Anthony S. Fauci, physician, scientist and top federal health official, Doctor of Science. Fauci will receive his honorary degree when he addresses 2020 graduates at the May 7 Comeback Commencement.
In his remarks, Coleman examined the theme from the 1960s rock musical “Hair,” recently staged by UM musical theater students. Its main character, Claude, wondered what to do with his life, the possibility of being drafted to fight in Vietnam and the desire to be invisible – a free spirit.
“Claude is not the first young person to worry about the future and his place in it. Young or old, none of us know what will happen tomorrow or the day after, or how we will make a difference in the world,” Coleman said.
And like the turbulent ’60s, the times and challenges facing the Class of 2022 have been disruptive: the pandemic, judgment on race and the treatment of African Americans and people of color, and senseless deaths of citizens ordinary.
“But I want to believe that those difficult days have also brought some clarity to the dilemma of what should matter in your lives. That the course correction we’ve had has put more emphasis on balancing careers and lives,” she said.
“Joy. Health. Family. That’s what really matters. It may seem simple, but happiness, health and family should also be at the core of your being.
Provost Susan M. Collins encouraged graduates to continue to find ways to pursue the type of learning they engaged in in college, to follow where their curiosity and passions lead them.
“Sustained effort helps us develop the discipline and expertise to go deeper into something – to turn an idea into something that matters. And so, I encourage you to remember the joy that comes from mastering something difficult. “, she said.
“As you move forward, I encourage you to combine your curiosity and passion with your ability to work hard and persevere in the face of challenges. Being a lifelong learner in this way will allow you to lead a life filled with meaning, value and joy.
LSA Dean Anne Curzan recalled the excitement and anxiety as she sat where the graduates were and that “I wish someone had told me what I now firmly believe, namely that life has chapters”.
“You will enter certain chapters with a plan, which may or may not be what is actually happening, and some really good parts of chapters will happen by accident,” she said. “The key is that you don’t have to know the whole story or how it’s going to end. You just have to decide what will make a next chapter interesting and useful, and that chapter can be as long or as short as you need or want it to be.
Faculty Senate Chairman Allen Liu spoke about the societal stressors graduates have faced during their college careers, from the drastic changes wrought by the pandemic to issues of social justice and climate change to Russian aggression against Ukraine.
“You can ask, ‘What is the value of education?’ To quote Dr. Maria Montessori, three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, “Preventing conflict is the job of politics; establishing peace is the job of education,” Liu said. “When you enter society as a Michigan graduate and embark on your chosen career, you bear the social responsibility to defend and promote civil discourse.”
During the ceremony, four student lecturers – Nicholas Brdar and Noor Moughni from LSA, Lindsay Anderson from the School of Dentistry and Mingxuan Sun from the School of Information and Stephen M. Ross School of Business – reflected on their years at UM.
“Above all, my experience at the University of Michigan taught me to accept the existence of difference as a necessary force for positive social change in our globalized world,” Moughni said. “As we step out into the world and reach new depths, hold a perspective that elevates difference and never lose sight of what sets you apart.
“Difference is a crucial element of life. We must resist the initial discomfort of difference if we are ever to enjoy its fruits of transformation, solidarity and, ultimately, liberation for all.