The Ford School is proud to celebrate the achievements of the graduating classes of 2022! The Charge to the Class will be delivered by the dynamic writer, climate activist, and indigenous leader Julian Brave NoiseCat.
Welcome, everybody! Thanks for braving the rain with us today. Please, everybody have a seat.
It is great to see you all out here. It is great to be in person again, how about that amazing community high school jazz band? We are so happy to have them here.
I'm Michael Barr; I'm the dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. It was a pleasure to see many of you this morning at the Big House, and it is my honor to welcome you all here this afternoon on behalf of the entire Ford School community for our 2022 in-person commencement ceremony.
It just feels so great to be here with you today!
In fact, how about a quick picture?? Here, I brought my phone. All right, on the count of three ….
We’ve built this temporary venue in partnership with the School of Public Health and the School for Environment and Sustainability, and I’m grateful to those colleagues for their collaboration.
Introduction of platform party
Let me introduce briefly the folks here on the stage with me.
First, our keynote speaker: Mr. Julian Brave NoiseCat. [clap]
Julian, we are so honored to have you here and look forward to your remarks.
Next, please welcome Regent of the University of Michigan, Paul Brown. Paul, thank you so much for being here today.
A longtime University of Michigan leader, my predecessor dean of the Ford School, Provost Susan Collins. Welcome and thank you!
A number of my faculty colleagues are here as well.
At stage left is John Ciorciari. John directs our Weiser Diplomacy Center and our International Policy Center, and he will be reading the names of our graduates as they cross the stage.
Next to John is Ford School professor David Thacher, here to do the honors of hooding one of our PhD students today.
Professor Kathryn Dominguez, who directs our PhD program.
Professor Betsey Stevenson, who has been elected by our graduating students to deliver the faculty address.
Our terrific associate deans Luke Shaefer and Celeste Watkins-Hayes are here to my left as well.
To my right, Assistant Professor Charlotte Cavaillé, representing our undergraduate program leadership, and Associate Professor Kevin Stange on behalf of the graduate program committee.
Finally – elected by their classmates to provide the student commencement addresses are – soon-to-be Ford School MPP graduate Crystal Olalde Garcia and BA graduate Gerald Sill. [clapping]
We’re gathered here in this beautiful venue to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of 171 outstanding students—smart, resilient, public-minded people who will be leading our communities for the next half century.
Graduates, congratulations - you did it!
I get the honor of telling your families and friends about the Ford School and about you.
The Ford School at the University of Michigan is a community dedicated to the public good. We inspire and prepare diverse leaders grounded in service, conduct transformational research, and collaborate on evidence-based policymaking to take on our communities' and our world's most pressing challenges.
Yes, we do. Yes, we do.
Our school is named for one of the University of Michigan’s most distinguished graduates, the 38th president of the United States, Gerald Ford. We’re proud of his legacy of principled leadership and courage.
Our curriculum starts with a shared understanding of and belief in facts. Today’s graduates have learned to analyze complicated data sets. To think analytically. To evaluate costs and benefits. They know their stuff.
We stress communication skills. And so they’ve learned to speak and write clearly and persuasively.
And we’ve helped our students learn leadership. Our graduates have learned to listen and talk and think -- critically, ethically, and compassionately.
These amazing graduates have persevered through so many challenges these last hard years.
We’re celebrating two students who have earned PhDs—one in Public Policy and Sociology and the other in Public Policy and Political Science. Each is doing groundbreaking work on how to improve policing–integrating the theory and knowledge from their disciplines and the tools and lens of public policy.
We celebrate the 102 students who have earned master's degrees in Public Affairs and Public Policy.
They hail from 12 different countries and speak 19 different languages.
It’s a strong, supportive group.
Through two years of pandemic, campus discord, and strife, they’ve lifted each other up. They’ve supported and cared for each other.
For most, their first year at the Ford School was fully remote. And yet, with grit and creativity, they found ways to connect, over Zoom, in parks, in study groups.
As professional students preparing for careers of impact, they’ve been motivated and intentional. They’ve focused on caring for communities who need it the most.
And they’ve been agile: this class has learned how to navigate classes, workshops, and job interviews using technologies I’d never heard of before the pandemic.
They’ve completed internships or capstones with organizations across all sectors and levels of government.
Looking ahead, they’re landing jobs that will help them change the world.
Now, I’ll tell you about the 77 students who have earned a Bachelor of Arts in public policy.
They had not made it to the end of sophomore year when the pandemic hit. They spent junior year taking courses over Zoom, many scattered about the country.
But we felt their character that Fall in the form of a major hand turkey campaign (?) in Betsey’s class. And that spring, in the form of the great Weill Hall rubber ducky campaign.
Back in person this year, they were thrilled to be here with us, but also had to weather the adjustments–learning, for example, that they really couldn’t go to class anymore in their pajamas.
But with tremendous heart and resilience, they jumped right back in, finishing strong and improving our community.
They celebrated together this month with a well-publicized “Barr Crawl”, which was absolutely NOT not named after me.
Our grads are now headed to work at top jobs in the public and private sectors.
Several will go on graduate programs in law, education, and policy.
A large number of them are moving to DC, and I predict they’ll have a lot of fun together there.
Taken together, the Classes of 2022 are resilient. They care about each other and about the world.
Graduates, let me send you off with 5 words of advice. And by words, I mean paragraphs.
Number one. Work hard. Really hard. Really, really hard. Anything worth doing requires hard work.
Number two. Don’t be a jerk! That might seem like one of those norms we’ve lost in our society …. but it’s NOT. Be kind to your colleagues.
Number three. Empower yourself. You can do anything. Don’t talk yourself down. Talk yourself up. We’re facing enormous challenges. You can make the difference.
Number four. Find your passion. That passion will drive you to do great things.
Number five. This one is about love.
Let me start with: Love your team: you can’t get anything big done alone. But you don’t have to. Find or build a good team, then support each other. If you give deeply they’ll give back to you in ways you can’t have imagined.
I’ve loved my faculty and staff team at the Ford School. Graduates, will you join me in thanking our faculty and staff? [applause]
And let me make a broader point about love too. Now I know we’re a school known for our quantitative chops, but for this I’ll turn to the humanities, to poetry. I checked it out with the University’s lawyers and it’s fine. After all, we have a great Writing Center team at the Ford School too.
A poet whose work I return to often is the great Seamus Heaney. In his poem The Aerodrome, he recalls being a young child in Northern Ireland during World War II, standing with his mother outside of a busy air field, where American airmen were preparing for the liberation of Europe.
He feels a child’s uncertainty, but then the warm firm squeeze of his mother’s hand.
“If self is a location, so is love:
Bearings taken, markings, cardinal points,
Options, obstinacies, dug heels, and distance,
Here and there and now and then, a stance.”
Graduates, I know when you look back on your years at the Ford School, you’ll remember how brutally hard the pandemic has been. You’ll also remember – we hope – statistics, microeconomics, values and ethics, and how to write a policy memo.
But I hope that more than anything, when you look back on these years at the Ford School, you’ll remember the love.
The love of your families of origin and of your families of choice who got you here. The love you’ve found among your classmates. The problems and solutions that you’ve come to care about with your whole heart.
Over these past couple of hard, hard years, it’s been love that’s gotten us all through.
And so wherever your career and your life takes you, never be afraid to bring that love with you, to center yourself in it.
We all know love’s the key to a happy life, but it’s also the secret ingredient to leadership–to having an impact on the world. As Heaney wrote, “If self is a location, so is love.” Take your bearings, orient yourself around the people and the work and the causes you love, take a stance.
Classes of 2022, we’re proud of you, and we love you. Go Blue!
Now, it is my great pleasure and honor to introduce University of Michigan and my good friend Regent Paul Brown.
We’ve done everything together from building a fund for entrepreneurs to reeling in some big fish. He has a few words for the Classes of 2022.
Welcome, Regent Brown.
Thank you Michael
On behalf of my colleagues on the Board of Regents,I am delighted to join you in this time of celebration.
Today, we come together to celebrate all of you - your dedication, your determination and your dreams achieved as you graduate from the top ranked public university in the nation.
As regents, we are inspired by your many scholarly achievements and I am honored to share in this moment with you and with your families and friends, who also are justifiably proud of your accomplishments.
Today you join one of the largest and most influential alumni networks in the world. We hope that you, like thousands of Michigan grads before you, will return to campus often to visit.
Wherever you go, remember that we are extremely proud of you and wish you the very best!
Congratulations Class of 2022. Good luck and Go Blue!
Thank you, Regent Brown.
We are also honored to be joined by University of Michigan Provost, and former Ford School Dean, Susan Collins. Provost Collins is a highly distinguished macroeconomist who has been named president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and she will finish up her impressive tenure at the University in just a few short days. I’m so glad to have her join us here to speak to our graduates before she heads to Boston to fill this important and prestigious position.
Thank you Michael and I'm delighted to congratulate you on your nomination to serve as the vice chair for supervision at the Federal Reserve.
What a pleasure to be here, as provost, to represent the university at this graduation ceremony! And as a faculty member at the Ford School, I am absolutely delighted to be here to congratulate the class of 2022.
The Ford School embodies things we think are best about the University of Michigan a diverse community, intellectual rigor, creative thinking, collaboration, impact, and lasting friendships. In your years here, you have contributed to each of these. As you go forward to careers that will help to shape the world, we have every confidence that you will draw on these resources, gain strength from what you learned here, and help to foster these qualities in the communities where you live and work.
One of my predecessors as dean of the Ford School was Ned Gramlich, an economist who went on to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. When welcoming students each fall, he would note that to work in the policy world requires hard heads and soft hearts. To develop effective policies, he believed, it is critical to do rigorous analysis and to blend it with compassion, with understanding of the hopes and dreams of those we are serving.
Nelson Mandela, who knew a great deal about bringing change to the world, expressed a similar idea, saying that, A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.
As you move on to new work, new people, and new communities, I hope you will put this formidable and effective combination to use in addressing the challenges facing the world.
Today, with tremendous pride in your accomplishments and confidence in your abilities, we welcome you to the community of University of Michigan graduates and look forward to your continued success.
Thank you, Susan, for your remarks and your leadership here at the Ford School and at the University. You will be missed!
And now, I’m delighted to introduce our keynote Commencement Speaker, Julian Brave NoiseCat.
A member of the Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen (“Tsk-es-ken”) and a descendant of the Lil’Wat (“Leel-Wat”) Nation of Mount Currie, Julian is a writer and filmmaker currently based in the Pacific Northwest. He is a brilliant thinker who works at the intersection of climate journalism and advocacy for indigenous rights.
NoiseCat's work has been recognized with numerous awards including the 2022 American Mosaic Journalism Prize, which honors "excellence in long-form, narrative or deep reporting on stories about underrepresented and/or misrepresented groups in the present American landscape."
In 2021, he was named to the TIME100 Next list of emerging leaders for his work at the center of the climate crisis.
Julian, it’s my great honor to welcome you here to Michigan.
Weyt-k xwexweytep. Julian Brave NoiseCat ren skwekwst.
Ren ky'eœy te skwest re Alice New’sket. Te Stswecemc m-tstekwes.
Ren xp'eœyœy te skwest re Harry Peters. Qelmucweske Nkasusa. Te Samahquam m-tstekwes.
Secwecwpemc-ken ell St'itlimix-ken. Te Tsq'escen re tste7kwen.
Le7 ren pupsmen ne7elye tek tm’cw, w7ec re Anishinaabe-ulucw.
I know what you're thinking.
What the heck did that Native guy with that crazy Native-ass name just say?
I've been thinking about names and naming. To have a name. To give a name. What is in a name? What is a name? And what is it to name?
It's hard not to think about these things when your parents and ancestors give you a name like Julian Brave NoiseCat.
Whenever someone checks my driver's license or reads my byline or has to listen to me think out loud into a microphone, like you all are so graciously doing today, they often stop, squint their eyes and ask: Is that really your name?
I think for some, it's the first time they've encountered a real-life Indian. I'm sure they've heard Indian names before. You know, like Sitting Bull. Crazy Horse.
Or maybe they remember John Red Corn from King of the Hill.
But when a real-life Indian is staring you down, I often feel like there's some curiosity on the other side of your gaze, some desire to inspect my difference.
Like maybe on some gut level, people understand that there must be some significance to a name.
And indeed, there is.
Sometimes my family and I will sit around and tell stories about Indians we know and remember who had big names.
Growing up in Oakland there was a family, who were often unhoused, with a last name that could be rendered alternatively as ÒShot with Two Arrows, Shot Twice or just Shots.
It was as though their very name, like their family, was restless. It moved here. It moved there. It did not want to stay put. It did not want to be singular. And it did not want to be made legible to the state.
My dad remembers two uqwis brothers and best friends who used to run around the rez together in the sixties and seventies named Klobby and Konky. Except in our Shuswap-English pidgin their names were rendered with Salish phonology, a glottal stop placed after the 'k': lobby and Konky. They're gone now, but when you say their names your palette decolonizes, at least for a syllable or two.
And of course, there are some Indians whose names received rather unfortunate English translations. One of the Crow scouts who rode with General George Armstrong Custer was named Mahr-Itah-Thee-Dah-Ka-Roosh. History remembers him as White Man Runs Him.
It's hard not to think about names when you're an Indian.
We are peoples with big and often powerful names who understood the power of naming the power of the name one carries and also the power of the names we give to others. To humans, to places and to the other-than-human world around us.
The University of Michigan invited me to stand up and offer words upon your graduation. I am humbled by their request. It was not so long ago that I was one of you. Sitting down there, looking up and listening on my big day. Not talking. Not speechifying. Just waiting for my name to be called.
So, when I, a writer, a filmmaker, an activist and an indigenous man, thought about what I should say, I thought about words and how much they matter. And about names, which in all the galaxy of words are a particularly strong constellation.
Today, I want to talk to you about choosing words well and with care. And about the significance of names.
I want to talk about names because for hundreds of years the United States, Canada and many other nations tried to wipe Indigenous names off the face of this earth.
When my ancestors were baptized and sent to schools built to eradicate their Indian-ness, church and government officials changed their names.
I'm not talking about bestowing a nickname or adding an honorific or making something easier to pronounce in English. I'm talking about the wholesale eradication of names. The dismantling of nomenclature. The deletion of identities from the historical record and eventually from all human memory.
When they baptized my ancestors, the missionaries would give us Indians just one name, a first name. Not too far back in my family tree, I have an ancestor who the missionaries must've called Indian Archie. In our community there was an Indian Frank and an Indian Bob. An Indian Pete and an Indian Dick.
Many of my relatives still walk around with those first names for last names.
And as the missionaries erased our names and eradicated our identities they submitted our children to systematic cultural deprogramming. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has deemed this a cultural genocide.
At one of the schools my family was sent to, St. Joseph's Mission in Williams Lake, British Columbia, a ground penetrating radar search recently identified over 90 potential unmarked burials. At another, the Kamloops Indian Residential School, a similar search identified over 200.
Canada operated some 150 schools like St. Joseph's and Kamloops. The United States operated more than 350.
General Richard Henry Pratt, who founded the first American Indian boarding school in the United States described the goal of these schools as to Kill the Indian and save the man
All the Indian there is in the race should be dead, said Pratt.
In this continent-wide campaign to kill the Indian in the child, we are now learning that thousands of actual Indian children perished that not long after the church and government took their names, many of those Native babies, toddlers, children, adolescents and teenagers, were themselves dead and in the ground.
In the traditions of my Secwepemc and St'itlimix peoples' names could either be inherited or earned. And names are remembered. Retold through story and song by descendants who honor our ancestors by keeping their names alive.
Some names, like the last name I carry, NoiseCat or New’sket as it was originally pronounced marked descent and relationship to ancestors. I venture to guess that, like me, many if not most of you carry last names that mark your descent and your relationship to your ancestors too. In that way, we are not so different.
Others Secwepemc names, though, like the one carried by my ancestor Tyenmescen, recognized a person's deeds on this earth. Tyenmescen is a combination of two words: tyenem, meaning to go around and scenc, meaning rock.
As it was told to me, my ancestor Tyenmescen was a war chief who confronted settlers and goldminers coming into the Stswecemc peoples' country. As the intruders went around and through a rocky pass Tyenmescen would impress upon these squatters and fortune-seekers the importance of abiding by our Indigenous laws.
I feel lucky to know that story because for my people, to name someone or something was to be able to tell their story. To endeavor to tell their truth. And in many instances, if you could name someone or something you might also know how to sing its song.
The morning before the Williams Lake First Nation announced that over 90 potential unmarked graves had been identified at St. Josephs, I had a sweat ceremony with the Williams Lake chief and a few other men.
And in that sweat lodge, a St'itlimix man sang the song of my grandfather's grandfather, Nkasusa, the hereditary chief from Samahquam whose tax name was Harry Peters.
Children from Samahquam were sent to St. Joseph's and other schools. And in all likelihood, some did not return.
I acknowledge Nkasusa7 today because I hope to stand in the strength of his leadership, his legacy and his song. You see, Nkasusa7 was a celebrated leader. He was one of the chiefs who signed the 1911 Lil Wat Declaration, which read in part:
We claim that we are the rightful owners of our tribal territory. We have always lived in our country; at no time have we ever deserted it, or left it to others.
We are aware the government claims our country, like all other Indian territories but we deny their right to it. We never gave it nor sold it to them.
We speak the truth, and we speak for our whole tribe
I invoke Nkasusas words today because, like him, I am asked to speak. And when ground penetrating radar is finding the bodies of my ancestors children, children who did not have the opportunity to beget their own descendants and become ancestors in their own right voice becomes an existential responsibility.
I remember and honor Nkasusa's name so that, like him, I might carry my responsibilities in this world to myself, my ancestors, my descendants and to you all here today well.
Responsibilities. In many of the Indigenous communities I have visited, names define and carry responsibilities.
One of the men who has helped me return to our Secwepemc lands and life ways is a hereditary chief from the Esk'et First Nation named Francis Johnson Jr.
Francis spends a lot of time up in the high country hunting and down at the river fishing. Everywhere he goes, he recalls the stories and names that connect us to our places. His name, Tllexwumenesk't, means to go up high. Tllexwumenesk't is often going up into the mountains where the memories of our ancestors still live. He knows that to carry forward our ancestors memories we have to pass on the knowledge we have. That's why when he goes, Tllexwumenesk't invites his brethren, like me, to come out with him and learn.
It just so happens that before we even knew each other, Tllexwumenesk't and I both attended the same potlatch a ceremonial gathering of many songs, dances, meals and gifts held in the remote Bella Coola Valley of British Columbia. Bella Coola, a river valley cut into the Coast Mountains by retreating glaciers and rising seas, is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. There, at the mouth of the Bella Coola River in 2018, the Moody family of the Nuxalk Nation passed the title Nusmata, meaning heaven from Larry Moody Sr. to Larry Moody Jr. The name comes with the responsibility to care for his family's ancestral village site in the valley, a place the Nuxalk call Snut'li. But it also comes with the responsibility to give.
In Nuxalk culture, like many Indigenous cultures, the person who is considered wealthiest is the one who gives the most. This is the function of the potlatch.
In 2015, the elder Moody Larry Moody Sr. hit the $1 million jackpot in the provincial lottery. He used the winnings to buy cars for his brothers and a Harley for his junior. Much of the rest he put into the gifts for that potlatch: traditional foods like salmon and venison, piles and upon piles of winter blankets, original traditional art, and money. Because for many Native people, a name also comes with the responsibility to give.
A few weeks ago, I found myself at another potlatch. This one, in Sitka, Alaska, was put on by Louise Brady, a Herring Lady from the Kiks.adi clan of the Raven moiety of the Tling it Nation.
The Tling it of what is now Southeast Alaska have been harvesting herring, which they have given the name Yaaw, for at least 10,000 years, meaning Tling it ancestors started pulling herring eggs out of the ocean about the same time Mesopotamians started settling down to grow fields and raise livestock.
According to tradition, the first herring were harvested in the hair of a Kiks.adi woman, Yaaw Shaa, the first Herring Lady, who rested her head on a rock perched above the herring spawning grounds. When she rose, her inky locks were caked in the golden translucent roe of the fish. The Kik sadi were such good stewards of the herring that, in living memory, the Tling it used to be able to harvest eggs by skimming a special rake across the water
But it's not so easy to get herring eggs any more. In the latter half of the last century, the herring were incorporated into a commercial fishery, providing raw material for fertilizer, animal feed and fish food and also supplying the lucrative market for Kazunoko, a delicacy consumed by the Japanese on New Year.
For a generation, commercial fisherman fished and fished until they fished too much and herring stocks collapsed. There were once seven commercial herring fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Today there are just two, a decline that reinforces a multi-decade global trend. At present, herring have been nearly completely depleted in Japan, Norway, Nova Scotia, East England and Washington state's Puget Sound.
This is no trivial matter. Herring, it should be said, feed everything humpback whales, harbor seals, sea lions, eagles, sea gulls, halibut, salmon. And when these forage fish dwindle, other parts of the ecosystems they sustain can also falter.
At the potlatch for the Yaaw the Tling it name for herring Louise Brady, a Kik.sadi Herring Lady, Yaaw Shaa, challenged all in attendance to imagine what it might look like to celebrate, protect and give to the herring as those little silver fish give and have always given to the Tling it and to many others. Louise asked us to consider the responsibilities she holds as a Herring Lady. And in turn, what responsibilities we hold as people who have heard and considered the gift of that story and the name of the Herring Lady. Because names bestow responsibilities on listeners and witnesses too.
Now you might be wondering: Why is this guy going on, and on about names?
Well. For centuries, innumerable policies, practices and processes were devised and enacted to rid society of names and responsibilities like the ones I have just named and recalled.
What I am humbly suggesting is that we remember and consider the power of names. That naming matters. That as good students, citizens and policymakers you are going to be confronted with all sorts of realities, problems and challenges out there in this broken world we have inherited.
As you go about your world, just as Tllexwumenesk't goes about his from high up on the mountain to way down by the river, I would suggest that you seek to understand, to have empathy and in due time to name what you see and encounter appropriately with words carefully considered to represent the truth about our shared planet with accuracy and respect. This is an essential responsibility.
In her award-winning book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, writes: Names are the way we humans build relationships, not only with each other, but with the living world.
This might sound like simple folk wisdom or even common sense. But our society keeps getting it wrong.
Among the many crises we face of health, of climate, of democracy we also face, I believe, a crisis of words and a crisis of naming.
Right now, Vladimir Putin, one of the most powerful men in the world is calling the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, a country led by a Jewish head of state a campaign for de-Nazification.
President Donald Trump, the former and still-aspiring leader of the free world, has described our rapidly changing climate as a hoax invented by the Chinese.
In school boards across the nation, parent activists are decrying a more accurate account of history as Critical Race Theory.
Insurrectionists dare to call themselves patriots.
For some, the common courtesy of using the gender pronouns a fellow human identifies with and prefers is considered a step too far.
And on the cable network with the largest audience on television, much of what I have just said would likely be called fake news.
If democracy is the collective expression of our views and values through votes, I wonder how much of today's dysphoria can be traced to something off kilter within ourselves. To people unmoored from place, community, social role, communal responsibility and social reciprocity. To the turmoil of workers chasing jobs and livelihoods far away from their familiar hamlets. To the young people floating through social media platforms. And the pensioners flipping through television stations. To the good traditions that are dying. To the special places that are homogenizing. To the names and responsibilities no longer given and too often forgotten.
And I wonder what our world might be like if the policymakers who took this land had let some of those traditions, responsibilities and names live. If more of us sought to remember, understand and name the parts of our humanity Indigenous and otherwise that were nearly completely annihilated.
I'm currently writing my first book and co-directing my first documentary.
And in each of those projects, I've been thinking a lot about the power and significance of naming and of names including and especially the power of my own.
You see, I once thought of names as static. As something you received at birth and came into in a flash as an adult or early-career professional.
But along my journey, advocating for climate and environmental justice in Washington D.C, reporting from Indigenous communities across North America and beyond and holding tight to survivors and relatives as we searched the ground of St. JosephÕs mission for ancestors and for answers, IÕve come to realize that names are not discovered. They're revealed and worked towards across a lifetime. And sometimes across many lifetimes, as names carry and accrue stories and songs over generations.
And so let me tell you what I'm learning about my name, Julian Brave NoiseCat, and about myself.
NoiseCat, my last name, is derived from the ancestral name New’sket.
No one remembers what New’sket means anymore. No one. I've asked my kye, my grandmother, who is a fluent speaker of my Secwepmec language, but she couldn't come up with a translation.
In an old ethnographic text, I found reference to a warrior with a similar name, New’sesken, who helped bring an abusive man to justice near the Fraser River. I thought that was pretty dope. I don't know if he was my ancestor. But part of me would like to think so.
What I do know, is that the in the 1800s the name New’sket definitely belonged to a man named Copper John from Stswecemc which is in the Cariboo region of British Columbia. And then it belonged to my great-grandmother, Alice, who raised my father when his own parents, who were all messed up from the residential school, could not.
And then, one night in 1966, when my dad was seven, Alice went out in a blizzard to look for her husband Jacob, who was drinking. And she froze to death.
After Alice was gone, there were no NoiseCats anywhere in the whole world until my father married my mother, reclaimed Alice's name and passed it on to me and my sister.
We may never know what New’sket means or to which ancestor it originally belonged. What I do know is that to be a NoiseCat is to be among the last of your name. To be a survivor dangling on the limb of a family tree they couldn't quite chop down.
Julian, my given name, connects me to my mother's late best friend Julia; to my great-grandmother Julia Krause Peters, the daughter of Nkasusa7; to my cousin Julianne who is learning our language so that she can help teach the next generation of speakers; to King Julien, King of the Kingdom of Madagascar and, if I recall from the Madagascar franchise, also the self-proclaimed King of the Central Park Zoo.
And lastly, Brave, my middle name, connects me to, of all people, my late and very white grandmother Suzanne an Irish-Jewish orphan who may not have been Native, but who understood the power of a name, who gave me a quality to aspire to in my own and who had a sense of humor insisting that her only half-Native grandchild go around being called a Brave.
Today the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan is going to call out the names of 171 graduates.
When they call out your name and put a degree in your hands, I want you to think about the ancestors who gave you that name. Maybe your parents. Their parents. Their parents before that, and back and back. I want you to think about their deeds good, bad and otherwise.
And I want you to think about your own.
To imagine what it might look like to live your life in such a way that you might become an ancestor worthy of having their name and story remembered, passed on, maybe even sung about.
To honor those who have made you who you are, so that you might go out into the world with responsibility, generosity and intention. So that someday you might name things well too.
Tsukw. Kukwstetsemc. Thank you.
Thank you, Julian.
I am delighted to welcome to the stage members of one of the University of Michigan’s outstanding a cappella ensembles, the Compulsive Lyres. They’ll perform two classics from the University of Michigan songbook for us.
Thank you. Aren’t they terrific? [clap]
Each year, the Ford School’s graduating students are asked to elect people to play key roles at commencement. One faculty member is chosen to speak to the class. And our BAs and Masters graduating classes choose a representative student speaker.
As the faculty speaker, the Classes of 2022 elected professor Betsey Stevenson.
Betsey Stevenson is a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan. She is also a faculty research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and serves on the executive committee of the American Economic Association. She served as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers from 2013 to 2015 where she advised President Obama on social policy, labor market, and trade issues. She earlier served as the chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor from 2010 to 2011.
Betsey is a labor economist who has published widely in leading economics journals about the labor market and the impact of public policies for families.
I'm delighted to welcome her now to speak on behalf of our faculty. Betsey--
Graduating class of 2022 I am so happy to see you here and incredibly honored that you chose me to address you and your loved ones.
I watched a lot of previous Ford school graduation speeches in preparation for today and I learned that people do a better job sticking to 5 minutes when a member of Congress is holding a gavel with a countdown clock in front of the witness. Lucky for me, Dean Barr has yet to realize that.
There is a familiar rhythm to most graduation speeches just like there is a familiar rhythm to life. We celebrate your accomplishments, we applaud your hard work, we are inspired by the fresh ideas you have brought into the classroom. As we look forward we are energized by the change we know you can bring to society, the difference you will make, and the mark you will leave on the world.
The pandemic broke the familiar rhythm of life. And when I asked myself why did the class of 2022 choose me? I realized that you didn't choose me for my accomplishments. You chose me for being in the thick of it with you about the disappointment we felt and the challenges we faced and the mental health struggles we encountered as we endeavored to march forward even though all of the familiar patterns of life had broken, even though the very fabric of our society seemed to be dissolving in front of us.
When most of you applied to the Ford school, the pandemic had yet to start. The U.S. economy was booming. Women held more than half of all jobs in the economy. More mothers were in the labor force than ever before in the United States. In January 2020, I said in an interview with NPR I can't imagine what could happen that would disrupt women's upward trajectory.
I couldn't imagine.
I'm sure that few of you could have imagined. As you applied to the Ford school you envisioned being in rooms full of your classmates, debating policy issues late into the night long after everyone else had departed Weill Hall.
And there we were in the Fall of 2021 facing each other on zoom. Graduate students including some of you here in this room took a stand against the university asking for more safety, more clarity, and better partnerships with all stakeholders. Others felt torn about whether to cross a picket line when they had given up so much to be here, even if it was virtually. And the worst of the pandemic was yet to come.
These were not the experiences you hoped for. But they are the experiences that have shaped you and they are the experiences that will allow you to bring an even greater vision for change in a world that desperately needs change.
While each and every one of you did your best to work through these difficult times, for some of you, the schoolwork that you had been trained to do your whole life became overwhelming, while for others it became easier, an escape from the pandemic. As a faculty, we had to look harder to teach each of you where you were emotionally.
The beauty of that experience was that the discrepancy between how each of us appears and how we are actually doing melted away. To paraphrase Frank Bruni we all had to look for each other's invisible sandwich boards that itemize our hardships and hurdles. Suffering from long covid, just lost a loved one and couldn't say goodbye, I'm not sure I can afford to be here. Crippled by anxiety,
As we looked for each other's sandwich boards, we developed empathy.
I say we because I was right there with you. We all students and faculty alike--needed to dig deep to find empathy for each other. We also need to find empathy for everyone.
Empathy for everyone is where the hard work is. It is easy to have empathy for those who face an injustice in the world that angers you deep in your bones. The work, the work is in finding empathy for those who anger you deep in your bones.
Why should we find this empathy? We need this empathy to enact change. Only when you can understand can you begin to persuade. Only when you can empathize can you begin to find common ground.
Let me step back and explain why I love teaching policy students and take a moment to educate your family and friends about what a policy degree is and throughout I hope you will see why I think you, the graduating class of 2022 have gotten the best policy education of any other graduating class.
As an economist, my goal is to teach students how to use economics in policy. To be a successful economist in policy all the economics you need is a deep understanding of the principles of economics but you have to able to move from the textbook to the playbook. A key part of that is being able to understand how people are likely to respond to the ways in which a policy decision shapes and creates incentives. Doing so requires empathy.
But policy is about more than economics. You have learned from political science, sociology, history, and of course statistics.
Your job as a policy student is to integrate across the many disciplinary fields you are learning from so that you can be effective along all of the dimensions that matter--developing policy that shapes incentives for individuals to get the outcome you want, communicating the policy proposal in a way and at a time that policy makers will be receptive to your idea, considering the social-emotional impact and spillover effects that lead policies to shape not just outcomes for individuals but whole communities, and figuring out how you communicate and implement policy decisions in the best way to minimize negative impacts on communities.
It all comes together in the most important part of the public policy degree: learning how to write. If policy schools were ranked on memo writing Ford would definitely be number one. You learn writing by writing so even if you are wincing at the memory of all that writing, know that it was the most important thing you did.
Communicating is about empathy. You have to care about your listeners, your readers. Who are you talking to, how are they hearing you, why should they want to listen?
You have to listen to me today, but will you hear me?
Only if I have heard you.
And you did teach me. As some of you may remember I reflected on this learning in an interview in the New York Times last summer when I explained that I was teaching about the disincentive effects of unemployment insurance and how it can discourage people from workingÑa concept economists call moral hazard--when one of you raised your hand and asked, is it really moral to use the threat of hunger to motivate people to work?
I didn't have a good answer.
Because this is where you now come in. Policy is about values. It is your turn to decide on the values that you believe should guide society. Many of you know my policy priorities, but today is about you. I want to learn more from you as you take your place in the world and begin to advocate for what you believe in. And I know you are going to in the words of Lin Manuel Miranda blow us all away
My advice to you as you go forward is to remember that sometimes it gets hard. And those are the moments that define you. Sometimes you fail. And those are the moments in which you grow the most. The past few years have been hard and there have been failures for many of us. Use the empathy that you have developed along with the more concrete tools to build a stronger, more humane, and more just society.
Thank you, Betsey. Now we’ll hear from the student elected to speak from the bachelor’s class of 2022, Gerald Sill.
Gerald has earned a minor in urban studies along with his BA in public policy.
While at Michigan, Gerald has held internships and jobs with the Washtenaw County Public Defender’s office; the Center on Finance, Law, and Policy; Organizational Studies; ISR; and Media Matters for America. That’s in addition to working for the Michigan Daily and serving as Treasurer for the Students of Color in Public Policy.
Gerald is headed to Seattle, where he’ll take a position as career consulting analyst at Mercer.
I’m so pleased to welcome Gerald Sill to the podium --
Thank Dean Barr
Good evening distinguished faculty and staff of the Ford School, friends and family, and graduates of the Ford School's Class of 2022.
I must admit when Dean Barr informed me that the Gerald R Ford School of Public Policy would be renamed the Gerald R Sill School of Public Policy, I was a little shocked
Obviously, the accomplishments that Dean Barr just listed speak for themselvesÉ Dean Barr: *interjection*
[turn around to Dean Barr] Oh we're not doing that? Are you sure?
Dean Barr: *interjection*
We share the same first name and middle initial, the rebranding costs would be minimal. Dean Barr: *interjection*
[turn back to audience]
Sorry, I was just informed that's not why we're here today [mime flipping through papers]
It's an honor to be part of such an incredible graduating class filled with Angell Scholars, MLK Spirit Award Winners, Former Hill and government Interns, and the organizers of the senior class BAR crawl. I'm so proud of all of you for persevering through a pandemic and zoom university, Professor Stevenson's microeconomics class, and many other challenges to get to this moment.
Over the past few days you have likely received many well deserved congratulations! From family friends. Followed by the questions: so what exactly is public policy? and what does one do with a degree in public policy?
If anyone knows the answer to that question please see me after the ceremony, so you can tell my mother.
Many of us chose to study public policy because we wanted to make an impact and help change the world for the better, from combating climate change to reducing economic inequality to fighting for racial justice. Or in my case you were looking for a major that would allow you to avoid taking Michigan Math.
In all seriousness, I am so excited to see what all of you smart, talented, and kind graduates will accomplish. From becoming business leaders to policymakers to judges and professors.
Sometimes I worry about the future, but as I look amongst this incredible cohort, I know that the world is in good hands.
Right up the road from us here on Hill Street, is the Gerald R. Sill - I mean - Ford School and right next to Weill Hall is the Chabad House. For the past couple years as I've walked past I have often seen a message scroll by on the electronic sign outside that reads the world depends on your one good deed. When I first saw that message my initial reaction was wow that's a lot of pressure and well I better do something big. For a long time I thought that the only way to truly make an impact was to do something grand like how in a romantic comedy professions of love come from holding up a boombox outside a window or stopping someone from getting on a plane. In the public policy world it would be analogous to passing groundbreaking legislation or giving a rousing speech that turns public opinion.
However, I have come to realize that to make an impact you don't necessarily need to do something big. Graduates, when we reflect on the moments that helped us reach this point we likely do not think of extravagant gestures but rather small moments of sacrifice, kindness, or empathy, from a parent rushing us to soccer practice after a long day of work to a professor staying after class to answer a question to a friend checking up on us when weÕve gone a little too hard at the senior bar crawl.
I hope that I can serve as proof that even little things can make a big difference.
So to not only the Ford BA class of 2022, but everyone here, I hope that you will seize the opportunity every day to do one good deed and then another and then another. The world depends on it.
Congratulations to the Ford Graduates of 2022 and Forever Go Blue!
Thank you so much, Gerald.
The MPP/MPA class of 2022 elected Crystal Olalde Garcia to speak on their behalf.
Crystal earned her undergraduate degree in Political Science at Rice University.
After Rice she joined Teach for America and went on to administrative and strategy roles with a number of school districts.
Here at the Ford School, she earned a prestigious Ford-Rackham Merit Fellowship and she’s been a first-rate student leader in her role as co-chair of the graduate student government, the Student Affairs Council.
Crystal will be joining the Deloitte Government Public Services team in Austin after graduation.
Crystal, it’s an honor to welcome you to the podium.
Good afternoon y buenas tardes. Whether you're in person or watching virtually, thank you for celebrating the 2022 MPP, MPA, and PhD graduates of the number one social policy school, the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
My name is Crystal Olalde-Garcia and I'm both honored and nervous to be standing before you today. I am a proud Mexican-American, first-generation college graduate, and I want to begin with gratitude. Gracias a mi mama, papa, y familia por el apoyo y amor incondicional. I am grateful to my fiance Kyle for his unwavering support. Thank you to my peers for providing more leadership development than I could have ever imagined. And I'm grateful to the staff and faculty for your commitment and dedication to our collective learning.
This cohort includes students who had one in-person semester before the pandemic, and the rest of us, who committed to a graduate school program knowing that we would be in Zoom university. We all came to Ford eager to influence policy and policy outcomes. We may have changed interests or concentrations along the way, but we remained committed to learning how we can play a role in the policy-making process.
While I could not possibly capture or speak about everyone's experience in 4 minutes, I hope the lessons I'm about to share resonate with you in some shape or form.
First, communication is critical. A virtual year challenged us to find new techniques to provide insight into our personalities, passions, and strengths. From Zoom backgrounds to Instagram stories and Slack reactions, we found ways to show empathy, support, and humor to one another to connect even at a physical distance. The resourcefulness we had to summon in these conversations will help us address the challenging issues of the changed world that we are now heading back into.
Second, community is needed. We began building our community virtually and were eager to meet one another in person. During orientation, we found ourselves in an unprecedented and hopefully never repeated moment: under the tent, 6 feet apart, screaming through our masks trying to learn each other's names. As we proceeded through the core curriculum, we continued forming friendships and connections. Allmendinger Park and York became frequent spots with our weekly park days and sanity checks. The gap between people's Zoom energy and
in-person presentation was a common topic in the early days; I know I surprised many of you with my height.
In addition to the crucial importance of communication and community, I've been especially impressed by the power of questions. Some of the questions we asked each other in the early days were as lighthearted as Can you show us your pet? We soon transitioned to the more consequential Do you have hand sanitizer? And increasingly over these last two strange and important years, our questions have communicated the depth of the community we've built together exploring, for example, our various individual and shared reasons for deciding to pursue a graduate degree in the first place asking: Why is this the norm? What can change? What can I do?
Questions posed by professors and peers contributed to our policy toolkit. These included: Are there inequitable outcomes? What are the racial implications? What are the measures of success? Questions like these have equipped us to challenge existing policies and propose better ones. I know these and many other important questions will be posed throughout the country and internationally across various fields, in the years to come by this cohort.
As we prepare for the next chapter, I'm deeply grateful for the time I've spent in this special place surrounded by such intelligent, brave, caring, and dedicated individuals. And it gives me hope to know that each of us will carry all the skills, connections, and guiding questions we have built and shared together. We did it y'all, congratulations to the class of 2022, and Go Blue!
Thank you, Crystal.
We are now at the moment that families and friends have been looking forward to all afternoon. Our graduates are ready to come to the stage to receive official congratulations on a job well done.
Families, please remain seated. After the ceremony, you’ll be able to get a photo of your graduate taken by professionals. You’ll see them on the big screen, too. And you won’t block anyone’s view.
This year the names will be read by John Ciorciari.
John is an Associate Professor of Public Policy–and the faculty director of our International Policy Center and Weiser Diplomacy Center. He teaches courses on politics, political institutions, and post-conflict law and transition. John has an undergraduate and a law degree from Harvard, along with a master’s degree and a DPhil in international relations from the University of Oxford.
I’m pleased to introduce John to call the names of our graduating students.
Conor Gregory Hynes
Owen Timothy Stecco
We’ll close with a song in a minute. Thank you all for coming today. I encourage everyone to join us just up the road at Weill Hall to continue this celebration of our graduates.
Graduates, please stand and turn to face the crowd.
You’ve all achieved something wonderful, but as we see (gesture) you didn't get to this moment by yourself.
Will everyone please rise: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, spouses, partners, sisters, brothers, friends, faculty, staff, neighbors, and everyone else here offering their support.
Graduates, please show your people your love!
BA students, at this time please move the tassel on your mortarboard from the right to the left.
And now, I’m so proud to present to you, the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy’s Classes of 2022. (clapping)