Hello and welcome. It is my pleasure, on behalf of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, to offer brief remarks. I am Mike Solomon, the Rackham dean.
This is how I would normally open my remarks at Rackham Graduate Exercises. Of course, I would be standing behind a dais instead of sitting behind my desk, and you’d all be in regalia just like me. My family definitely had questions this morning when I came down dressed like this. To be honest, we’re probably a lot more comfortable than we would have been in Hill Auditorium.
I wholeheartedly wish that we all could be together today to recognize and celebrate all that you have accomplished. And by we, I mean not just you, as the graduate receiving your master’s, certificate, or doctoral degree. I also want to include faculty who mentored you, and the family and friends who supported you on your path to degree. I want to invite you all back to campus for an in-person ceremony at a later date.
I appreciate, however, that even though we are separated, there is a sense in which the importance of your accomplishment unites us right now more strongly than ever before. And even though today is a celebration of everything you have worked toward and achieved over several semesters, a few years, or even, I daresay, many years, it feels appropriate to first acknowledge the obstacles COVID-19 has presented to our Rackham community during the course of the term we just completed. It was a term like no other.
As you finished the requirements and fulfilled the responsibilities of your degree, much was asked of you. Master’s and certificate students, you likely finished your capstone projects and final exams in ways you couldn’t have imagined just a few months ago. Furthermore, as Rackham students, a number of you adjusted your own teaching methods in a very short time as you offered courses remotely as a graduate student instructor. For those writing your Ph.D. dissertation, you were asked to ramp down your laboratory, field work, human subject, or archival research and find alternate ways to conduct your last data and critical analyses. A few of you may even have defended your dissertation by video conference as well.
All of these demands were on top of the intense personal demands the pandemic has placed on each of us. As the virus spread, so did concerns within our community for the health and safety of not only ourselves, but also of friends and family across the country and around the world. Distancing measures meant that the usual ways of interacting with peers, friends, and loved ones were unavailable just when we needed them most, and that those closest to us were often necessarily far away.
As much as any class before or after you, today you have earned not just your degree from the University of Michigan, but something more. You have earned a degree of admiration. A degree of awe. And, to no small degree, our thanks—our thanks for the flexibility, determination, and persistence you displayed in this last phase of your academic journey.
When I completed my Ph.D.—let’s just call it many years ago—I actually missed out on attending my graduation. It was because three days after I turned in my dissertation in California, I needed to travel halfway across the globe to start a postdoctoral fellowship in the Southern Hemisphere. I didn’t return to campus until much later. And as I decamped quickly from campus, I was filled with doubt and apprehension. And I felt loss at my abrupt departure. The details of my experience, though, are only superficially aligned with what you are experiencing as you look ahead and embark in these unique circumstances on new experiences and new career pathways in a world that feels uncertain, fragmented, and strange.
No one knows how our current crisis will progress until we ultimately achieve a new normal. At the same time, I firmly believe that it’s at these times—when things are most uncertain—that you as a Rackham graduate will be most needed. As holders of advanced graduate degrees from this university, you are uniquely equipped to shape the path ahead. You will affect public policy. You will discover treatments. You will engineer solutions. You will connect the events of our day to broader historical and intellectual patterns. You will help us understand the problems facing us in ways we never imagined; you will produce works that will make us think and make us laugh and help us heal. Your paths and what you will accomplish are undetermined in the most positive way possible. There are so many different ways in which your work and your scholarship can ultimately impact the public good.
At its highest level, that is the goal of graduate education, which unites us today on this very happy occasion, wherever you may be. And whether the friends and family who have provided you with their guidance and encouragement are with you in person, on video, or in spirit, I join them in offering my sincere appreciation.
The skills and expertise you have worked so hard to achieve through your University of Michigan graduate degree are needed now more than ever.
Thank you, and congratulations!