Taking the podium at the University of Michigan-Flint's Fall 2023 Commencement, Interim Chancellor Donna Fry encouraged graduates to consider how they've taken the unique challenge — and privilege — of a college education and made the most of it during difficult times. The Class of 2023, Fry said, has provided health care to those in need, helped young children learn to read, and raised awareness and funding for hunger and other societal concerns, among other daily acts of service.
The only thing left is to continue that pattern of innovation and service in the next chapter of their lives.
"The challenge now is to take the knowledge, skills and sense of civic responsibility you've learned at UM-Flint and utilize them to improve your life and make your communities and the world a better place for all people to live and work," said Fry.
UM-Flint's Fall 2023 Commencement, which took place Dec. 17 at the Riverfront Conference Center, was split into three ceremonies that recognized graduates from each of the university's five schools and colleges. Close to 850 graduates from the summer and fall semesters were eligible to participate.
Along with Fry, speakers at the event were Sonja Feist-Price, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs; and Michael Behm, U-M regent, who addressed the crowd of graduates and their guests via a recorded video message.
Student speakers also reflected on lessons learned while looking toward the future at each ceremony. Theo Ellis Sr. represented the School of Management and College of Innovation & Technology, Tayah Fantin, spoke for the School of Nursing, and Kyra Salim was chosen among graduates from the College of Health Sciences and College of Arts, Sciences and Education.
Behm provided a message to graduates on behalf of the U-M Board of Regents.
"Today, you leave UM-Flint as the leaders and best, equipped to contribute to and transform your respective fields, communities and society. I hope, as you go out into the world, you remember the lessons the University of Michigan has instilled in you, including searching for the potential in every opportunity and working to overcome roadblocks that may arise along the way," Behm said.
In addition to serving as a U-M regent, Behm is president of the Flint-based Behm & Behm law firm. He lives in Grand Blanc.
The highlight of each ceremony were remarks from the student speakers, each of whom reflected on the challenges and success of their college experiences, while looking forward to new opportunities and continued growth.
Theo Ellis Sr.
Ellis reminded his fellow graduates that "dreams don't have expiration dates and they are never too big, too bold or too audacious. Most importantly, they aren't mutually exclusive."
He would know. Ellis has worked in law enforcement while forging an entrepreneurial career in the music industry – he is the founder of ProSound Media, a full-service music company specializing in rights management and head of licensing for SILLE Publishing, which focuses on music for use in film, television and commercials.
"Fears and doubts might try to deter us, but this is where we dig deep into our Wolverine spirit, reach into the reservoir of grit and resilience we've built. Because it's through taking risks that we stretch our capacities, that we uncover hidden strengths, and that we truly realize our fullest potential."
Fantin might have the most experience with UM-Flint of all the day's student speakers – having been a student with the university since she was a junior in high school, earning dual credits. While UM-Flint allowed her to get a head start on a college degree, Fantin recognizes she has gained much more than just a diploma.
"I have thrived as a leader, created lifelong friends, and prepared to take the next step into my future. Never did I think UM-Flint would lead me down the path of nursing, but I am so thankful it did," she said.
Fantin observed that, just as she and her nursing classmates had different paths in their educational journeys, so too will they have different professional experiences. Despite this, they are united in choosing a career that is much more than a 9-to-5 (job).
"Nursing is unique; it is an art, a passion, a lifestyle. We will have stressful days but don't forget why we started this journey and chose nursing."
With a career goal of becoming a physician assistant, Salim has made the most of her time as an undergraduate. She has worked as a medical assistant and certified nursing assistant in addition to her studies, and tutored anatomy and physiology with the university's Student Success Center.
Despite her already considerable knowledge in the health care field, Salim's remarks emphasized the importance of not seeing oneself as "the smartest person in the room."
"Human advancement is fueled by curiosity, the pursuit of truth and meaning. The smartest person in the room has nothing more to learn, and no questions to ask. But for the others, the quest for knowledge propels them forward on a path towards growth and development," she said.
Each ceremony was livestreamed and is available on the UM-Flint YouTube channel.
Logan McGrady is the marketing & digital communication manager for the Office of Marketing and Communication.