Speech highlights


There is a symbol from Ghana, known as the sankofa, which embodies a message relevant to us today. The sankofa is a bird that is moving forward, while its head is turned backward. The proverb associated with the symbolism of the bird is:

“Look to your roots, in order to reclaim your future.”

The glory of the University of Michigan resides in its ability to reinvent itself continually, to cherish its roots while inventing the future.

— Inaugural address, March 27, 2003


I have spent 45 years in higher education, from being a freshman at a small liberal arts college in Iowa, to leading one of the premier research universities of the world.  I have been involved in groundbreaking medical research, have worked alongside some of the brightest minds in academe, and have dined with Pulitzer Prize winners and Nobel laureates.

Google Book Search is the most revolutionary enterprise I’ve ever experienced. It has the potential to transform the flow of knowledge, and there is no greater gesture a university can make. … It can, and will, change the world, and I want the University of Michigan to be part of it.

— Address to the Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers, Feb. 6, 2006


Collaboration is our future. Whether we pull together scientists from opposite ends of our campus or opposite sides of the country, we must call upon our best people to develop solutions for our future.

Academe is known for saying, “Publish or perish.” I say, “Partner or perish.”

— National Press Club, March 7, 2006


If November 7th was the day that Proposal 2 passed, then November 8th is the day that we pledge to remain unified in our fight for diversity. Together, we must continue to make this world-class university one that reflects the richness of the world.

I am standing here today to tell you that I will not allow this university to go down the path of mediocrity. That is not Michigan. Diversity makes us strong, and it is too critical to our mission, too critical to our excellence, and too critical to our future to simply abandon.

— Diag address, Nov. 7, 2006

President Mary Sue Coleman speaks at her final Leadership Breakfast. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

Bo Schembechler did not receive an honorary degree because of his win-loss record, remarkable as it was. He was not honored because of Big Ten championships, or consecutive appearances in a bowl game, or players in the NFL.

Bo was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Michigan because he was a man of integrity. It is an ideal we expect each and every student, employee and graduate of this university to uphold and demonstrate. We value and promote integrity in pursuit of new knowledge, in representing our institution, or simply in cheering on the maize and blue at Michigan Stadium.

— Celebration of Bo Schembechler’s Life, Nov. 21, 2006


These were six men you would want as neighbors, as parishioners, as volunteers, and as teachers.  Many of you here had the good fortune of calling them friends and colleagues, and your lives are richer for it.

These wonderful men will be rooted in our memory forever as part of the University of Michigan. We can never replace them, and our grief will not end with the close of today’s program.  But let us leave here looking up to them and grabbing hold of the opportunities they have given us, motivated by their commitment and inspired by their love.  Together, let’s give — and let’s live — the gift of life.

— Memorial service for Survival Flight crew, July 27, 2007


Scholarship knows no borders. By our very nature, universities are at the forefront of globalization and cooperation. Collaborations among our universities draw on the strengths of diverse perspectives to encourage the sort of cross-fertilization that is the basis of creativity and innovation. 

— University of Pretoria, Feb. 2, 2008


Student support, faculty chairs, and new facilities are the trinity of philanthropy in higher education. But Michigan being Michigan, our donors have gone one step further.

In addition to all this generosity, you have helped change the culture of public higher education. You have agreed that for a great public university to succeed and truly make a difference, it requires private support.

— Michigan Difference campaign finale, Nov. 14, 2008


I want the message to be clear: Sustainability defines the University of Michigan. Combine maize and blue, and you get green. A great university such as ours does not blink when presented with difficult challenges.

— Sustainability address, Sept. 27, 2011


Graduates, your final days at Michigan have coincided with one of the most painful episodes in recent history, and that is the bombing in Boston. … I suspect that years from now, when you reflect on the conclusion of your graduate work, the events of Boston will be part of those memories. And that is not necessarily a bad connection.

What does higher learning have to do with the terrible destruction wrought by disturbed individuals?


It is a powerful reminder that the continuous pursuit of knowledge is more indispensable than ever. That critical thinking is the antidote for conjecture and prejudice. And that you, as the newest members of the community of scholars, play a critical role in explaining that which, at times, may seem inexplicable.

— University Graduate Exercises, May 3, 2013


What I hoped for with my tenure at Michigan was that it would be a better place than when I arrived.

I believe it is a better place. We are a stronger university with deeper scholarship, greater affordability and broader global reach. And we are poised to do much more to advance the academic excellence that is the University of Michigan hallmark.

We are able to do this not because of me, but because of you: the students, staff and faculty who commit to Michigan, on all three campuses and around the world.

— President’s Leadership Breakfast, Oct. 8, 2013


For today, goodbye. For tomorrow, good luck. And forever, Go Blue!

— Signature closing of commencement address


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