Charles Woodson encouraged University of Michigan graduates to reject hate, see each other as human beings and carry forward a spirit of helping others during his 2018 Spring Commencement address Saturday.
Woodson, former Wolverine and NFL player, Heisman Trophy winner and philanthropist, delivered the address to a crowd of graduates estimated at more than 7,000, along with thousands of family members and friends at Michigan Stadium. He also received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during the ceremony.
An Ohio native, Woodson recounted how he was born with clubfeet and had to wear corrective shoes to realign his limbs, restricting his movement. His brother often helped him stay involved by moving him around the house.
Woodson told the graduates that going forward, they would be one of those two people: the helpless child and the person lending a helping hand.
Invoking the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Woodson advised the graduates to rid their minds of difference when looking around the stadium and witnessing their peers, faculty and family members.
Instead of grouping people by identities like race, sexual orientation or political affiliation, Woodson urged the graduates to see those around them as human beings — “nothing more, nothing less.”
“So today, I’m asking you, I’m begging you, do not carry the hate forward. My wife is begging you, don’t carry the hate forward. My two boys who have to grow up in this world are begging you, don’t carry the hate forward. But carry forward that spirit of helping others.”
In addition to Woodson, three others received honorary degrees. They are:
• Jeanne Craig Sinkford, professor and dean emerita of the Howard University College of Dentistry and senior scholar-in-residence at the American Dental Education Association, Doctor of Science.
• Penny W. Stamps, president of the Stamps Foundation, creator of the Penny Stamps Distinguished Lecture Series, recipient of the 2013 National Philanthropy Lifetime Achievement Award and U-M alumna, Doctor of Fine Arts.
• David R. Walt, Harvard Medical School Professor of Pathology, founder of Illumina Inc. and Quanterix Corp, recipient for the ACS Katheryn C. Hatch Award for Entrepreneurial Success and U-M alumnus, Doctor of Science. Walt also delivered the commencement address for the Rackham Graduate Ceremony.
In his remarks, President Mark Schlissel told the graduates that when they arrived on campus, they joined a special academic community that fosters learning, achievement and growth, whether students are in or outside of the classroom.
From participating in student organizations and performing community service to conducting research and being entrepreneurs, Schlissel said university officials are proud that many of the most wonderful qualities of a Michigan education “go beyond your academic transcript.”
“I hope that the urge to extend your engagement beyond the curriculum becomes a lifelong habit that takes you beyond the confines of your ultimate job or profession to become an engaged citizen and a leader within the community and society at large,” he said.
Provost Martin Philbert invoked the words of poet Carl Sandberg, who once said time is the “coin” of one’s life, and said the graduates have been provided opportunities to consider how to use and balance their time during their years at U-M.
“In doing so, you have come to an understanding that the rewards that come from immersing yourself in a field of study are irredeemable,” Philbert said. “This will stand you in good stead as you decide how to spend your time in the work that you choose and the responsibilities you assume as citizens.”
Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs Chair Robert Ortega, associate professor of social work, said faculty try to inspire students to learn and to care. He also said “an important part of learning is action.”
In his remarks, LSA Dean Andrew Martin discussed the importance of free speech and the exchange of ideas, saying that ideas will otherwise remain untested and “unready for the battles on open waters that are sure to come.”
During the ceremony, several student speakers shared stories about their personal and diverse backgrounds, the opportunities they received during their Michigan experience and the memories they made as a Wolverine.
Nadine Jawad, who graduated from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, said graduates must remind themselves that while they discuss and write about “the world’s suffering” within the confines of the university, many in the world continue to struggle, lacking food, health care and education.
“This truth can either paralyze us or it can recharge our will to utilize this Michigan degree to fight for basic human rights in society and for the advancement of humanity,” Jawad said. “I know that I will take these four years of thinking, growing and serving, and use them to make this world better with my degree. I hope you will too.”