Dean Michael S. Barr: 2021 Ford School Commencement

May 1, 2021 0:05:07
Kaltura Video

Dean Michael S. Barr speaks during the 2021 Ford School Commencement.


Good afternoon! I’m Michael Barr, the Joan
and Sanford Weill Dean of the Gerald R. Ford

School of Public Policy. I am honored today
to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments

of the Ford School Classes of 2021: our outstanding
graduates who have earned their bachelor’s,

master’s in public policy, master’s in
public affairs, and doctoral degrees. Students

choose the Ford School because they care about
the greater good. They work hard while at

Michigan, and they learn to work together.
They graduate prepared with the knowledge

and analytic expertise, leadership prowess,
and the writing and communication skills needed

to design, advocate for, and implement good
public policy. In that respect, the Classes

of 2021 are like any other graduating Fordies.
But of course, this class’ experiences at

Michigan were not like any other. Most of
today’s graduates started their Ford School

studies in the Fall of 2019. Students, you
might remember that semester for the launch

of a major new center for diplomacy. We hosted
amazing speakers: Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza

Rice in the same week! Samantha Power, Steve
Biegun, Susan Rice, Dennis McDonough, and

Steve Hadley. All of those visits were in
person! With handshakes, packed auditoriums,

and of course—free food! That seems like
a really long time ago. In the midst of winter

term, the COVID pandemic upended our world,
bringing so much suffering and loss, with

devastating health and economic impacts disproportionately
felt by the most vulnerable. By May, and for

week after week over the summer, the death
of George Floyd and so many other Black and

brown people at the hands of police spurred
millions of Americans to take to the streets,

demanding racial justice. In the chaotic,
scary months leading up to and following the

November election, we experienced deepening
divisions in the US, rising racism and white

nationalism, and both rhetorical and violent
attacks on our democracy. Here on campus we

suffered through a divisive return to school
last fall and we weathered a widely-supported

strike by graduate students, who called on
the University to make real strides on public

health and racial justice.
When the pandemic hit last March and we moved

suddenly to an unfamiliar, new, remote world
of learning, teaching, and work, I started

what became a nightly email communication
to the whole school, for the remainder of

the semester. Through those emails, graduates,
you learned perhaps far more than you ever

wanted to about me: tastes in romantic comedies,
thoughts on the weather, our Passover menus,

love for the Harry Potter movies, my good
days and hard days. But along the way, I was

trying to model a way forward through the
crisis. With all of you so much on my mind

recently, I looked back at some of those emails.
On March 17th, just as we started remote classes,

I wrote: “Crises help us to remember who
we are and what we stand for. The Ford School

is a community dedicated to the public good.”
And in the days and months since, graduates,

you’ve shown that’s true. You’ve demonstrated
who you are. You are leaders, grounded in

service. You helped vulnerable communities,
armed policymakers with facts and tools, worked

with nonprofits and small businesses, marched
for racial justice, listened and learned and

stood up, you protected each other’s health,
offered an outstanding education and kept

our community connected, and turned out the
vote, standing up for our democracy. The crises

revealed you as resilient and strong. You
persevered to complete your Ford school degree,

and you helped each other and so many others
along the way. Graduates, we’ve weathered

this whole brutally hard year together. Together,
as a community dedicated to the public good.

Our shared experiences this past year have
bonded us together forever. I know that for

the rest of my life, I’ll remember with
great warmth and gratitude this class, and

the faculty and staff who taught and mentored
you, and kept our mission moving forward.

I speak for the entire faculty and staff of
the Ford School when I say we're proud of

you. We believe in you—in your capacity
and your conviction and your preparation and

your empathy—to take on the great challenges
before us. Congratulations on all you’ve

accomplished at Michigan. My heartfelt gratitude
and best wishes to the Classes of 2021. Go