Class of 2011 has essential role to play

By Carl Levin
U.S. Senator – Michigan

One of the most exciting and fulfilling parts of my job comes around every year at about this time, when I have the honor of speaking to graduating classes at Michigan schools as part of their commencement ceremonies. It was my privilege this year to speak at two commencements, at Lansing Community College and at Kettering University in Flint. The message I conveyed to them is the same message I would give to all our new graduates – that they are poised to help lead Michigan and the nation in our economic recovery. Our graduates, busy though they have been with their studies, know we’ve had a tough few years in Michigan, that our country is emerging from the worst recession most of us have ever experienced, and that our recovery is fragile. There are many things we need to do to strengthen the recovery. Some of them must happen in Washington, some of them must happen in state capitols, and some of them must happen in our places of work. But lots of those things will have to happen in classrooms and labs. Our economy is changing faster than ever before. It is more competitive than ever, not just among U.S. companies but among companies and workers around the globe. We can’t cope with any of those trends if our workers aren’t smarter, more adaptable, more innovative than ever before. Schools like LCC, Kettering and the other fine institutions we’re lucky enough to have in Michigan are essential to that process. Many of the students graduating from LCC, for example, came to the school having already established a career, and were finishing up the education they need to be better at that job, or to try a whole new one. A mid-career trip back to school may not be something many of their parents tried. But it’s going to be increasingly common in this new economy, and LCC has embraced the mission of educating these mid-career students. Kettering, meanwhile, will play a leading role in helping our auto industry build the efficient, alternative-energy vehicles we need to compete globally. The auto industry is in Kettering’s DNA – it began as a night school for automotive engineers almost a century ago, and General Motors owned the school for more than 50 years. Just as the pioneers who built the auto industry near the turn of the last century transformed the world, so too can the new graduates from Kettering and Michigan’s other world-class engineering schools. They will help us end the automobile’s dependence on fossil fuels that damage our environment, a dependence that also harms our national security. And they will help develop the advanced manufacturing capabilities, clean energy sources, and advances in medicine and information technology that will lead our nation forward and will create the jobs on which middle-class success depends. The students I spoke to at LCC earned degrees and certificates in more than 150 fields, including medical specialties, manufacturing technology and computer science. At Kettering, I shared the stage with one student speaker whose studies included bioengineering and robotics, and another who won awards for her research on DNA. We will need their energy and excellence in these fields and many more if we’re to grow our economy and create the jobs we need for working families to prosper. The eminent historian Bruce Catton wrote a history of Michigan, where he grew up, and in it he wrote: “The great American feeling of being en route – to the unknown, to something new, to the fantastic reality that must lie beyond the mists – is perfectly represented here.” That is so true of our state. It is true, too, of America, which will ride the energy and spirit and drive of the Class of 2011 to a future that is unknown, but is rich in potential. I wish the members of the Class of 2011 all the happiness and fulfillment they can find in the fantastic new reality that awaits them.
Carl Levin is the senior U.S. senator from Michigan.