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President's Perspective

  • Author:
    M. Peter McPherson
  • Published:
    Summer 1999


'I have rarely been at a place where men and women speak about their alma mater with such glory, fervor, and pride.' -- Elie Wiesel, 1999 keynote speaker, University Convocation.

            Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, one of history's great humanitarians, visited MSU in May. When he expressed his admiration for our beautiful campus and the tremendous community spirit he saw demonstrated here, we were proud. And when he challenged us to remember that there is much in the human spirit to celebrate, I thought of how the people of Michigan State prove him right.

            Our spring commencement ceremonies were filled, as always, with tradition, pomp and circumstance--caps and gowns and proud families filling the seats of Breslin Center. But this year, we had something else, too, that made this a remarkably special commencement day. Two world leaders brought their distinguished voices to our campus. Wiesel, a world-renowned humanitarian who survived Auschwitz, delivered the keynote address at the undergraduate ceremony. Later that day, Jean Chretien, Canada's Prime Minister, spoke to those Spartans who were receiving advanced degrees. We heard words of wisdom and warning. We were motivated. We were heartened. And at the end of the day, we realized how privileged we had been to host two exceptional men and the spirit they represent.

             Prime Minister Chretien sounded a note of pride in public service. 'I have been in Canadian public life for 36 years,' he said. 'And I tell you from my heart that my efforts have been rewarded in ways that far exceed any material gain I might have made in private life.'

            Elie Wiesel spoke eloquently about the need for people to care about the world in which they live, to have compassion and to take care of others. And then he issued us a compliment--and a challenge. This man who has lived through horrors so terrible they can scarcely be imagined said: 'There is more in the human being to celebrate than to denigrate. Prove it.'

            I thought then about our community here at Michigan State. We have come through challenging times as all universities do, but we remain focused on the true essence of MSU and its important legacy: our alumni, our faculty, our students and our staff. They stand for achievement, for success, for community service and world leadership, and it is their accomplishments we celebrate at this time of the year.

            Earlier in the week I attended a pre-commencement luncheon honoring six MSU students who won national and international awards, including the Marshall Scholarship, the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship and the Truman Scholarship. These are among the most prestigious student honors in the world and they mark significant academic achievement. These students and their faculty mentors are shining examples of Michigan State's excellence. And what of MSU's many faculty members who continually discover new knowledge that benefits us all?

            For instance, the work of faculty emeritus Barnett Rosenberg and his colleagues continue to save lives every day--their research at MSU led to the development of Cisplatin, the world's most widely-prescribed cancer fighting drug. Earlier this year, three separate studies in the New England Journal of Medicine found even more uses for the medication--when combined with radiation therapy it was shown to reduce a woman's risk of dying from cervical cancer by more than 50 percent. Somehow I think success stories like these would make Elie Wiesel proud. 

            On commencement day, and every day in between, we celebrate the spirit and talent of the Michigan State community. And this special commencement was a day of fitting tribute to our new graduates, and a day of renewed spirit for us all.