The co-founders of Zingerman’s Delicatessen sent University of Michigan spring graduates into the world Saturday with advice based on their personal beliefs, which one of them joked was “the best I have to offer, other than a $16 Reuben.”
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Under a cloudless sky with temperatures around 70 degrees, Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, both U-M alumni, shared what they believe made them successful entrepreneurs, community leaders and philanthropists, and founders of a community of businesses that started when they opened their first deli in 1982.
“While vision, values, quality, customer service, marketing and making money are all important, we believe that what we believe makes a big difference,” Weinzweig said. “The beliefs that we choose, or those we hold but don’t acknowledge, will form the footprint for everything else that happens in our lives.”
Saginaw told the graduates, friends and family members that filled about two-thirds of Michigan Stadium that when they assess their mental lists of must-haves for success, they should work to put joy — driven by generosity — near the top.
“Generosity leads to joy. It’s simple and it’s guaranteed. Generosity follows the natural law of the harvest. You reap more than you sow. When you give, you get back more,” Saginaw said.
“I’m not telling you take a vow of poverty. Earn as much money as you like, see the world, buy a nice car, get rewarded for hard work. Just know that these things don’t bring joy like being generous does.”
Weinzweig listed a roster of things he believes in. Among them were:
• Continued, engaged and interesting learning is at the core of a great life.
• Our lives are more rewarding when we own our choices.
• Little things matter most.
• Simple kindness matters more than most people will admit.
• Hard work can be one of the most rewarding things anyone engages in.
• The opposite of courage is not cowardice, but conformity.
• Every single minute really does matter.
“Most importantly, for today’s purposes, I believe in you,” he told the assembled graduates. “By dint of the fact that you have done what you’ve done to earn the right to be here today, both you and the world know that you have the intelligence, you have the emotional resilience, you have the connections, you have the capability to do great things.”
The pair concluded by alternatingly summarizing their beliefs.
Saginaw: “Be generous.” Weinzweig: “Be joyful.” Saginaw: “Go for greatness.” Weinzweig: “Make a difference. … Let’s get back to work.”
Besides Saginaw and Weinzweig, who were awarded honorary Doctor of Laws degrees, five others also received honorary degrees:
• John Dingell, former U.S. Congressman for Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, Doctor of Laws.
• Sanford R. Robertson, pioneering venture capitalist, founding partner of Francisco Partners and U-M alumnus, Doctor of Laws.
• Robert J. Shiller, Nobel Prize winning economist, best-selling author and U-M alumnus, Doctor of Science.
• Robin Wright, award-winning journalist, author, foreign correspondent and U-M alumna, Doctor of Humane Letters.
• Dr. Tadataka Yamada, global health expert and former faculty member in the Medical School, Doctor of Science.
In his remarks to the graduating class, President Mark Schlissel spoke of the many interactions he’s had with students during his first year as U-M’s 14th president, and how it’s been a pleasure getting to know them.
He asked them to consider how they would answer the question, “What are you going to do next?” — not in their chosen professions or future studies, but as citizens.
“Today I want you to consider what it means to be a citizen of the University of Michigan community. It is a day to look beyond the day and to the future, to what you can be, and how you can serve society.”
Citing some of the many ways students have worked to help communities around the state and beyond, Schlissel said being a citizen-graduate of U-M has a very special meaning — but also defies a simple definition.
“I hope wherever you are going, you will get involved in the communities you become a part of,” he said. “As citizen-graduates of the University of Michigan, you are ready to positively influence others — your families, workplaces, and communities — and take on the biggest problems confronting us as people.”
Provost Martha Pollack echoed the theme of citizenship, telling graduates, “You are now all educated citizens, and it’s not just your job to succeed in the workforce. It’s also your job — your responsibility — to search for truth and to struggle to improve the human condition.”
She asked them to think about lessons they may have learned during their time at the university that go beyond the skills they will use in the workplace — lessons they may not realize until some future time.
“I believe you’ll remember experiences that can only be described as transformative, experiences that enabled you to understand the complexity of the world, to appreciate its beauty and react to its ugliness, and to engage with it and with other people in richer and more satisfying ways,” Pollack said.
Catherine Huang, chosen to deliver the student address, recalled accomplishments of herself and fellow graduates: launching the world’s largest computer-programming hackathon, raising millions of dollars for hospitals with dance marathons, protesting police brutality and racial profiling, rallying against sexual assault, and representing the university through ROTC, on athletic fields and in the performing arts.
“And this, I believe, is what Michigan is all about. We don’t settle and we commit to causes much, much greater than ourselves,” said Huang, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy, politics, and economics.
On a lighter note, Huang closed by urging those in the crowd to take out their phones and cameras, gather others around them, make a ridiculous face and snap a selfie.
“Whenever you’re feeling anxious, or down or in any way ready to settle for less than your best, I want to whip out this photo and I want you to laugh at yourself,” she said.
“Then, I want you to remember who you were during your college days — your ambition, your tenacity, your willingness to take huge risks and your unrelenting passion as an empowered Michigan student.”