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Michigan Daily covers third annual Ford Last Lecture, breaking down party barriers

April 17, 2017

Wrapping up the year for Public Policy seniors was U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.) and distinguished professors of the University of Michigan to deliver what is traditionally called the Last Lecture.

The event, as part of the third annual Public Policy Last Lecture series, brought University seniors to Weill Hall on Wednesday to leave them with lasting words as they face graduation at the end of the month. 

Public Policy senior Keerthana Sundar (BA '17) helped organize the event, and noted its importance in sending off the seniors.

“The Last Lecture is a capstone event that ties together a variety of policy topics and perspectives to end the school year,” Sundar said. “It's a send-off lecture full of insightful advice and anecdotes from our favorite professors.”

This year’s talk, called “Bursting the Bubble: Policy in the Age of Polarization,” aimed to discuss politics after the 2016 presidential election, as well as the importance of breaking down party barriers. Public Policy senior Connor Rubin (BA '17), another co-organizer of the event, believed this year’s theme was particularly important given the events of the past year.

“This election was one of the most polarizing in recent history, and I think anyone interested in making a difference in their community needs to realize that yelling is easy, but doesn't solve anything,” said Rubin. “The goal of this (lecture) is to show a variety of perspectives, because no singular point of view has a monopoly on good ideas.”

Students listened to Dingell and Public Policy professors give advice on their upcoming endeavors, as well as interpretations of today’s political climate.

“You are graduating in very unique and challenging times,” Dingell said. “You are in a rapidly changing political, social and economic landscape, and will need to use what you have learned here at the University of Michigan to address the opportunities and the challenges that lay ahead.”

Each speaker interpreted the themes of political bubbles and polarization differently, and encouraged graduating students to do the same. Ann Lin, an associate professor of Public Policy, relayed the importance of understanding these different perspectives.

“There will be moments where you see an issue, a person, a problem that is not fundamentally you,” Lin said. “And yet, there is some way with which you can identify with it.”

Other speakers included Public Policy Dean Susan Collins, Assistant Prof. Megan Tompkins-Stange, Associate Prof. Shobita Parthasarathy and U.S. Ambassador Melvyn Levitsky. Speakers touched on subjects including life advice for seniors and memories of the late President Gerald Ford, clearly distinguishing each speaker from the next. Public Policy junior Aditi Katti said she was surprised by the range of topics.

“I didn’t know that they would be speaking about the same topic from very different perspectives,” Katti said. “It was very cool that we got a diverse range of perspectives and ideas.”

As the faculty featured at the capstone event were chosen by the students themselves, Lin said the event was especially meaningful and twofold. 

“It’s really an honor after (students) listen to you for a whole semester, they still want to hear something that you have to say,” Lin said.

Sundar noted the significance of having these faculty members present. 

“We picked the speakers based on the feedback of our classmates — we approached the educators they thought had left the biggest impact on them and they wanted to hear more from,” Sundar said. “I also hope that (the lecture) will add on to the education (students) have received at the Ford School and equip them with the soft skills to engage in meaningful introspection and productive debate, and be better problem solvers and policy-makers.”

This story, "Third annual Ford Last Lecture emphasizes breaking down party barriers," was written by U-M student McKenzie Hanigan for The Michigan Daily. It is reprinted here, with thanks to the author.