Dr. David J. Brown encouraged graduates to embrace their uniqueness, while DTE Energy executive Ron A. May urged them to be flexible but focused as they work toward their goals during UM-Dearborn’s two commencement ceremonies December 17. The university conferred more than 700 degrees Saturday, including 511 bachelor’s degrees, 206 graduate degrees and 7 doctoral degrees.
Brown, associate vice president and associate dean for health equity and inclusion at U-M Health System, addressed graduates of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters and the College of Education, Health, and Human Services.
He spoke about how his experiences growing up as a biracial youth in New Jersey eventually prepared him to connect with people from varying cultures and backgrounds who felt like they saw themselves in him.
“The thing that actually bothered me when I was a child because I was different was actually my special uniqueness that facilitated others to trust me and allowed us to share what we have in common,” he said.
“I encourage all of you to celebrate your uniqueness, your diversity, and leverage that to your advantage. Contribute your unique and diverse talents and experiences to your team because the teams that are highly functional are very diverse. Diversity and inclusion allow teams to achieve higher quality, be more innovative and more competitive.”
Brown, a first-generation college student, went on to encourage graduates to search for people who believe in them and to keep working toward their goals.
“Chase the dream—I almost gave up on my dream,” he said as he recounted the story of how he was initially denied an interview for U-M’s residency program before a mentor and advocate spoke on his behalf. “Act on your dreams and persevere.”
In the morning ceremony, May, executive vice president of major enterprise projects at DTE Energy, addressed graduates of the College of Business and the College of Engineering and Computer Science. He reflected on lessons learned during his own time as a U-M undergraduate student, drawing comparisons between the political and social unrest of the late 1960s/early 1970s and today.
“The current events of today seem so profound and unique… [But] we realize that the many challenges that have occurred in your lifetime and in your four years are pretty cyclical,” he said after speaking about how he worked his way through college during the era of the Vietnam War.
“My message to you is pretty simple. Be integrity-filled. There are always a lot of distractions in life—only let those that help you move forward with your vision be well attended. Finally, if you [take away] a single thought from today’s celebration, I would urge you to give back to today’s society.”
Following his remarks, May received the university’s Distinguished Leadership Award, which is given to an individual who has made a significant contribution to campus development. Chancellor Daniel Little recognized May for his advocacy on behalf of UM-Dearborn at DTE Energy—which has led to university student placements, research opportunities and strategic partnerships with the company—and his support of the region as a whole.
Little also presented five student awards over the course of the two ceremonies. These students were recipients of the Chancellor’s Medallion Award in recognition of their strong academic record, quality of character, intellect and integrity:
- Canton resident Angelina Camilleri, College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters
- Canton resident Joshua Postel, College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters
- Dearborn resident Fariha Rafiq, College of Engineering and Computer Science
- Livonia resident Jennifer Schweizer, College of Education, Health, and Human Services
- Dearborn Heights resident Maria Rodriguez, College of Business
Students Katrina Stack and Courtney Ford also addressed their classmates, both speaking about the impact of attending a campus that values inclusion.
Stack, a College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters graduate, spoke at the afternoon ceremony.
“Our diversity as a student body is something that I believe makes us that much more prepared to leave here today and begin the journey ahead of each and every one of us,” she said. “The world is a diverse place. The differences among us have greatly enriched my education, often teaching me more about different cultures, religions, countries, history and people than I could have ever learned from a textbook.”
Ford, a College of Business graduate, shared similar sentiments earlier that day when speaking to graduates during the morning ceremony.
“One thing that makes me proud to be a UM-Dearborn student is our commitment to inclusion and diversity. Because we all come from different paths and backgrounds, UM-Dearborn provides a unique opportunity for us to learn about other cultures, religions and worldviews,” she said. “These experiences gave us the tools and knowledge that we need to be successful in a constantly changing job market and to also be kind, inclusive global citizens.”