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Posted on Sun, Dec 16, 2012 : 7:57 p.m.

University of Michigan graduates urged to pursue knowledge, embrace power of the individual

By Erica Hobbs

Graduates at the University of Michigan’s 2012 winter commencement learned they don’t know everything during their ceremony Sunday in Crisler Center. Keynote speaker Dr. Raynard Kington, president of Grinnell College in Iowa, spoke of the realization that knowledge is infinite but one should never give up in its pursuit.

“College has taught you many things, but it has not given you all the answers to life’s persistent questions,” he said. “…Not knowing is part of the human experience. But hopefully, if your teachers were doing their jobs…then they taught you that the feeling of not knowing must be followed by the impulse to wonder why, and to look for the answers.”

Kington, a U-M alumnus and president of U-M President Mary Sue Coleman's alma mater, spoke of a recent summer vacation with his family where he found himself struggling to console his 6 year-old son, who was grappling with the concepts of infinity, the end of outer space and mortality.

After attempting to use science, spirituality and just “making stuff up” to ease his son’s worries, Kington said it was finally the singing of “Summertime,” by Porgy and Bess, that put his son to sleep.

“No teacher will ever be able to give you the precise answers you will need in those moments, but the incredible education you have received at Michigan has certainly equipped you to understand the questions,” he said. “And then there will be times when the only thing you can do in your bafflement is surrender to the beautiful unknowability of everything and sing a song, and that is OK as well.”

In her address, Coleman spoke of the power of the individual and told the story of 1935 Michigan graduate Raoul Wallenberg, who went on to rescue some 100,000 Jews from Nazi death camps during World War II.

“He was, and is, a hero of the highest order,” Coleman said. “He showed us, more than any Michigan graduate, that one person can make a difference.”

Coleman also cited a recent report describing a global trend of empowering the individual and predicting a more educated and growing middle class by 2030.

“These individuals will be you,” she said. “The world will look to you, as graduates of one of the great universities, for solutions to climate change, new models of public education, innovative cures and therapies, and the leadership that is a hallmark of Michigan alumni.”

Students said they enjoyed the speeches and expressed mixed feelings about leaving the university.

“I’m relieved,” said Will Argiroff, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. #8220;It’s been a long four and a half years.”

Alida Villareal, who received her master’s degree in supply chain management, said the moment was bittersweet.

“I’m glad it’s over, but I’m sad that I’m leaving Ann Arbor and my friends,” she said. “But I’m very excited for what’s coming up next.”