Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White - April, 27 2017

Remarks by Timothy P. White
Chancellor, California State University
University of Michigan School of Kinesiology
2017 Commencement Remarks
Ann Arbor, MI
April 27, 2017


Thank you, Dean Ploutz-Snyder and Associate Dean Templin…

Parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses… loved ones, family, friends, colleagues… faculty, staff, alumni… fellow Wolverines…

And, most importantly, the University of Michigan School of Kinesiology Class of 2017!

Let me be among the first to congratulate you on this incredible and well-earned achievement…

You know, coming back to Ann Arbor after 26 years… at this special, excellent and globally consequential school… has certainly brought back memories from my 15 years here.

Indeed, today is very personal for me.

This is where my eldest son earned his chemical engineering bachelor's degree… two other sons were born at the UM Women's Hospital… and my wife earned four degrees… BS, MA, MS and Ph.D.

And this is where my academic career began.

We were good and highly regarded nationally, but small. Today, I observe with pride and awe that UM Kinesiology is good and highly regarded nationally, as well as academically more diversified and established… larger… with a stunning opportunity for growth and consequence for the school and alumni alike.

And I also remember the wickedly cold mornings coming into work… and looking up to the smokestacks at the Central Power Plant as I drove in along Maple Ave… to see how hard they were working to heat the campus.

If I saw steam coming from one stack, I knew it was cold, but bearable. But if both stacks were chugging along, I knew I was in for a really frigid day.

Of course, I also remember my job interview with Dee Edington in 1977...

I met Dee in his lab, where he was trying to show me his new electron microscope. Dee pulled out a razor blade to pull a tissue sample… and ended up slicing his finger wide open.

An interesting interview tactic to say the least, testing my first aid skills… but I guess he got his tissue sample after all.

And I was reminded, as I drove through Ann Arbor this morning and walked through this absolutely stunning and inspirational campus… of my Michigan lesson in humility.

You see, when I started here back in the 70s, all Michigan faculty had football tickets on the fifty yard line of The Big House. Primo seats to watch us beat up an Ohio State University.

Well, all faculty except for me… or at least, that's what I thought at the time.

So, here I was… a Big Shot in my own mind… with only corner endzone seats. Unacceptable for a hot-shot Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, right?

Followed by a hot-shot physiology post-doc from Michigan's medical school, John Faulkner…

So I go marching down – actually, swagger – to the Athletics Department to complain.

The ticket manager – the late Michigan hockey gre​at, Al Renfrew – stood behind the counter… with that Canadian accent, eh!

I still remember to this day the palpable smugness as he sized me up. Just imagine… an unruly long-haired guy with a mustache from California… confronting a no-nonsense Michigan hockey legend, separated only by a flimsy counter and plastic window.

It was the 70s after all.

So I complain to Al… tell him I'm a Big Shot faculty member recently imported from Berkeley.

I'm sure he rolled his eyes as he went back into the offices… he said, tongue in cheek, to ask the coach if I could get my seat moved. The coach at that time was of course the great Bo Schembechler.

I'll never forget what Bo yelled from his back office. It's a lesson that has stuck with me through my time at Michigan… to my tenures at Oregon State, Idaho, the University of California… and certainly today, as chancellor of the California State University, which serves 479,000 students on 23 campuses.

Bo yelled out from his office, "Tell him that touchdowns are only scored in the endzone!"

That right there... touchdowns are only scored in the endzone… stuck with me not only because it was a clever one-liner administering a dose of humility… while also informing me that my seats were not going to be moved… but because it so truly equates, in sports metaphor terms, to the trajectory of life.

Today… this ceremony… your graduation… is indeed special. A culmination of both your life's work up to this point… and the collective effort, support and love of your family, friends and the UM faculty and staff.

But today is not your touchdown. The diploma you will receive today – as an undergraduate, graduate or even a newly-minted Ph.D. – is not the endzone.

Here's the real kicker, no pun intended… you likely won't reach the endzone for another thirty, forty… heck, even fifty years if you are as slow as me.

I know, that even today, I'm still a few yards shy.

So you could say that my time at Michigan taught me humility… yet, because of its rigorous and unrelenting ability to hammer out of me any preconceived delusions of grandeur… Michigan also had this great way of creating ability and instilling confidence, enabling me to take my passion and skills to a fulfilling and interesting life, marked by contributing beyond self.

And really, that's your touchdown… when you've reached a fulfilling and interesting life… when you've committed yourself, your reputation and your life's work for the betterment of others… particularly those in our communities, country and world who are marginalized, unfortunate, discriminated against, destitute and disenfranchised.

That's your touchdown.

And we all know that your experience here at Michigan will help you along your path from whichever yard line you start from… all the way to the endzone.

The Michigan Experience, of course, starts with the outstanding, world-class education that you have received.

I hope you'll join me in again thanking the incredible faculty and staff of this outstanding and consequential school.

To the faculty and staff… it is through your students that you touch the future. Indeed, you touch eternity. What a privilege you have.

I'm sure that every member of the Class of 2017 can reminisce about the many uniquely-Michigan experiences you've had over the years, beyond the great education that you have received.

As I look out at all of you, I can see in your faces expressions of joy, exhilaration, curiosity… even a little embarrassment and dread… so it's clear to me that some of you are still reminiscing as we speak.

Michigan has this ability… to combine so many different and unique experiences, skills, knowledge, relationships and values gained in the classroom, lab, clinic and residences… in academics, athletics, sports, research, clinical efforts, music, internships and so on and so forth… to create the playbook for a truly interesting and meaningful life.

Yet it is your decisions going forward… decisions that acknowledge both your passion and ability… that will drive your successes in life.

Frankly, one without the other – passion or ability – is a non-starter in my view.

If you are passionate about becoming a neonatal neurosurgeon but don't have good fine motor skills, it's likely not going to work out.

Likewise, if you have great ability with your hands and an immense knowledge of the brain, but you don't wake up every morning with bold intent and relentless passion to help someone else… that's not good for your patients or you.

It is when you can combine those two things… passion and ability… that you can begin to move, inch by inch… yard by yard… toward your life's greatest goals.

But if… and let's be honest, when you do lose your footing from time to time, as I did along the way…

I know you'll look back on your experiences here at the University of Michigan… this incredible, global community of thinkers, do-ers and dreamers, instilled with unmatched resilience and toughness… and you'll get up and try again.

And again.

And when you stay at it, even when you are wholly uncertain as to what comes next… you will succeed.

The impossible will become the improbable, and then will become inevitable.

In closing, let me quote Robert F. Kennedy… who, when he came to a California State University campus on a beautiful spring day in 1968, told the thousands of students gathered in the quad that:

"Youthfulness is not a time of life, but a state of mind. A temper of the will, a quality of imagination. A predominance of courage over timidity… of the appetite for adventure over a life of ease.

It is the spirit which knows the difference between force and reason. It does not accept the failures of today as a reason for the failures of tomorrow. It knows that we can clasp the future, and we can hold it to our will."

Let me assure everyone here that you… the youthful Class of 2017… are ready for all that is next. 

Many people have observed that thoughts lead to words… and words to actions. So too, will your actions define your character, cast your destiny and create your legacy.

Be courageous. Be consequential. Have an appetite for imagination and adventure.

Give beyond self. Inspire and help those who will follow you into an increasingly uncertain world.

As Michigan Women and Men… as Kinesiology alumni… I am confident that your legacy will be profound.

Thank you, and congratulations.​