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Network World - May 2, 2009, University of Michigan
Class of 2009! First I'd like you to get up, wave and cheer your supportive family and friends! Show your love!
It is a great honor for me to be here today.
Now wait a second. I know: that's such a cliché. You're thinking: every graduation speaker says that -- It's a great honor. But, in my case, it really is so deeply true -- being here is more special and more personal for me than most of you know. I'd like to tell you why.
A long time ago, in the cold September of 1962, there was a Steven's co-op at this very university. That co-op had a kitchen with a ceiling that had been cleaned by student volunteers every decade or so. Picture a college girl named Gloria, climbing up high on a ladder, struggling to clean that filthy ceiling. Standing on the floor, a young boarder named Carl was admiring the view. And that's how they met. They were my parents, so I suppose you could say I'm a direct result of that kitchen chemistry experiment, right here at Michigan. My Mom is here with us today, and we should probably go find the spot and put a plaque up on the ceiling that says: "Thanks Mom and Dad!"
Everyone in my family went to school here at Michigan: me, my brother, my Mom and Dad -- all of us. My Dad actually got the quantity discount: all three and a half of his degrees are from here. His Ph.D. was in Communication Science because they thought Computers were just a passing fad. He earned it 44 years ago. He and Mom made a big sacrifice for that. They argued at times over pennies, while raising my newborn brother. Mom typed my Dad's dissertation by hand. This velvet hood I'm wearing, this was my Dad's. And this diploma, just like the one you're are about to get, that was my Dad's. And my underwear, that was... oh never mind.
My father's father worked in the Chevy plant in Flint, Michigan. He was an assembly line worker. He drove his two children here to Ann Arbor, and told them: That is where you're going to go to college. Both his kids did graduate from Michigan. That was the American dream. His daughter, Beverly, is with us today. My Grandpa used to carry an "Alley Oop" hammer -- a heavy iron pipe with a hunk of lead melted on the end. The workers made them during the sit-down strikes to protect themselves. When I was growing up, we used that hammer whenever we needed to pound a stake or something into the ground. It is wonderful that most people don't need to carry a heavy blunt object for protection anymore. But just in case, I have it here.
My Dad became a professor at uh... Michigan State, and I was an incredibly lucky boy. A professor's life is pretty flexible, and he was able to spend oodles of time raising me. Could there be a better upbringing than university brat?
What I'm trying to tell you is that this is WAY more than just a homecoming for me. It's not easy for me to express how proud
I am to be here, with my Mom, my brother and my wife Lucy, and with all of you, at this amazing institution that is responsible
for my very existence. I am thrilled for all of you, and I'm thrilled for your families and friends, as all of us join the
great, big Michigan family I feel I've been a part of all of my life.
What I'm also trying to tell you is that I know exactly what it feels like to be sitting in your seat, listening to some old gasbag give a long-winded commencement speech. Don't worry. I'll be brief.
I have a story about following dreams. Or maybe more accurately, it's a story about finding a path to make those dreams real.