The other day as I was riding the bus to my 4 p.m. class on North Campus, I realized I had made a grave mistake. I realized I was on the freshmen-filled Bursley-Baits bus. For those of you who have never had the distinct pleasure of riding the Bursley-Baits bus, let me tell you, it is quite an experience. Stepping on the bus, as a senior, is a bit like taking a time machine back to your own freshman year, where you must confront your former bewildered self. There you can overhear students talk about their current struggles. For example,
"My English 125 paper has to be a whole 6 pages!" and "I'm from California; I had no idea it got this cold in Michigan" to my favorite "How was I supposed to know that I didn't need to ask to go to the bathroom?!"
On this bus-turned-time-machine, I overheard two students griping about how their professor was really "pushing them" in one class. When we finally reached Pierpont Commons, I pushed my way off the bus. But what those two students were saying really stuck with me -- Michigan does push you.
Michigan pushes you farther than you ever thought possible. It pushes you onto buses, through classrooms, and onto the field. It pushes you to challenge your assumptions, and your insecurities. It pushes you to dream bigger, think more critically, and connect deeper with the world that surrounds you.
Michigan pushes us to ask questions -- to demand not the easy answers, but the more difficult ones. Questions like:
"Will there really be a snow day tomorrow?"
"How much caffeine is too much caffeine?"
And, "Do you think it's a bad idea to put my name down on so many Festifall Listservs? How long could they possibly email me?"
Just as Michigan pushed us, we pushed back. We pushed back to help create a more inclusive university that will hopefully one day be an accurate representation of our ever-changing diverse world. We pushed back for a more responsive university, and we pushed back against a general admission seating policy at football games.
And now we are being pushed out the door. Pushed into a rapidly changing world. But our world is no more uncertain, no more daunting, than it was for Wolverines who graduated in 1864, 1944, or 1964. Yes, we're graduating into a world with injustice, a world with division, a world facing grave environmental challenges, and, probably most troubling, a world that doesn't allow for midday naps.
But Michigan has pushed us to look past those realities, and demand better answers.
While this need to push is embodied in each and every Wolverine, it is perhaps best seen through one Michigan graduate: Edward White. While the world slept on June 3, 1965, White became the first American to walk in space. After spending a grand total of 23 minutes outside the safety of his spacecraft, White concluded his brief foray into space. His final words, as recorded by mission control, were, "I'm coming back in ... and it's the saddest moment of my life."
Leaving a place that has so inspired you and changed how you view the world is indeed a difficult task. And while I do not seek to compare a walk in space with a walk down State Street, I do sense some striking similarities. Our time in Ann Arbor has hopefully changed some of our perspectives, and made us realize our assumptions can be wrong, and that our realities can sometimes be painfully small. But we have learned that we are eminently capable individuals who are able to rise to the occasion. This university has simultaneously ennobled and humbled us, much the same as White's spacewalk did for him.
The memories we leave here -- a sunny afternoon on the Diag, a jog through the Arb, a tense night of cramming, those long conversations with our amazing friends -- are beautiful and unique to us. However, we leave knowing there is no singular Michigan experience. What unifies us as Wolverines is our need to push. We leave knowing that it is, it always has been, and always will be GREAT TO BE A MICHIGAN...