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Posted on Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 3:30 p.m.

Mary Sue Coleman, at commencement, praises Chris Armstrong's leadership under fire

By Nathan Bomey

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman praised former student body president Chris Armstrong at the university's spring commencement ceremony, saying the graduating senior set an example of steady leadership in the face of personal attacks over his sexuality.


Former University of Michigan student body president Chris Armstrong

Sam Wolson | The Michigan Daily

Armstrong last year became the target of criticism and allegations from former Assistant State Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, who repeatedly accused Armstrong of pressing a "radical homosexual agenda" and was was later fired.

The situation turned into a national story, and Armstrong is now suing Shirvell, alleging that he stalked him and caused emotional distress.

Throughout the situation, the university said it supported Armstrong, U-M's first openly gay student body president.

At this morning's commencement ceremony, Coleman said Armstrong is a "proven leader."

"He has represented you on campus and in Lansing. He has argued for changes in student housing and campus dining. He wants tuition to remain affordable," Coleman said. "And yet, what created the biggest headlines for Chris is the fact that he is a gay man, the first to lead the Michigan student assembly."


University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman addresses the crowd of 40,000 people at the commencement ceremony this morning.

Melanie Maxwell |

She added: "When this generated criticism and bullying, he did not blink. He continued to hold his head high as student body president and as a Michigan student and to speak out for a equality, tolerance and compassion. That’s what leaders do."

Armstrong, in September, told a student government body that "nothing said about us, or regarding our personal merits, will waive our commitment to serve the student body," according to a Michigan Daily report.

“I will not back down. I will not flinch. I will not falter. I will not succumb to any unwarranted attacks. What I will do is I will carry on with the utmost pride and vindication,” Armstrong said, according to the Daily.

Coleman, describing the best form of leadership, said: "This is no time for wavering, but rather for people who are willing to stand up for their beliefs and ideas, people unafraid to challenge the status quo, people unafraid to take risks, because big risks can deliver big rewards."

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.



Sun, May 1, 2011 : 1:25 p.m.

A real hero would have fought the University for it's treatment of a gay law professor who was denied tenure because he was gay. The University even argued that they could not be held legally responsible for violations of it's own policies against discrimination. A real hero would have pursued a restraining order instead of letting the University give Shirvell a trespass warning with no due process, like they had more than 2,000 others. Shirvell had no power over Armstrong and could do nothing more than embarrass him. Armstrong's main civil rights goal was to get the University to approve gender neutral housing as a right for LGBT students. The University said no. Did Armstrong speak out against Coleman's administration for denying this LGBT civil right? Heroism is demonstrated by risking your own well being for the good of others. Do you think Coleman would have praised Armstrong if she had been the one he was fighting for gay rights? Armstrong is a nice young man who withstood some embarrassing verbal attacks by a jerk with a blog but I will reserve judgement on his heroism until I see his future carreer in civil rights.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 5:02 p.m.

Harassment and abuse are only allowed when the left do it to republicans like Joe the Plumber, Sarah Palin's children, and millions of others deemed to be the enemy by the hate filled political left.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 3:28 p.m.

David, I would agree with harrass but he was espousing positions that have a lot of support in this community. He had support from President Coleman, the Board of Regents and campus police. Real heroism is demonstrated when fighting the good fight for causes that are upopular among the powerful.

David Briegel

Sun, May 1, 2011 : 2:07 p.m.

I think you should substitute harass for embarrass.

Mike D.

Sun, May 1, 2011 : 1:57 p.m.

Maturity is knowing that you can't always get everything you ask for the first time you ask. You win some and you lose some, but you're better off to have fought than to have stayed silent. Social change takes time, and it has to start somewhere. Chris's actions and words open doors for the next generation of agitators.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 3:20 a.m.

@runbum03 Chris Armstrong's heroism takes nothing away from those other heroes. Apples and oranges.


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 2:52 a.m.

Eight of our top Air Force officers were assassinated this week. They are the true heroes and leaders, in my opinion.

David Briegel

Sun, May 1, 2011 : 12:52 p.m.

They died in that futile effort in Afghanistan where they just celebrated their "victory" over the Soviet Union. Someday there will be a holiday celebrating their victory over America. Bring them all home NOW! Your post and mine have nothing to do with this thread and should be deleted for being "off topic". And yes, those that sacrifice in service of our nation are indeed Heroes! And so is Chris Armstrong!


Sun, May 1, 2011 : 7:04 a.m.

Condolences to all affected by the Air Force deaths, and thanks that they signed up to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.


Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 11:51 p.m.

I add my congratulations and thank you for the wonderful way you stayed strong.

Basic Bob

Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 7:46 p.m.

Congratulation, Chris, on your graduation. It is a big accomplishment.