Whitmer to MSU grads: Use your power for good
East Lansing — In her first speech at a college commencement ceremony since taking office, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ended it with some advice for her fellow Spartans at Michigan State University.
"Build bridges, don’t live under them," Whitmer said. "Look for inspiration in unusual places. Wear fun socks. And don’t ever read the comments sections."
"Class of 2019, you brilliant Spartans, get out there and change the world!"
Whitmer delivered her speech to thousands of MSU advanced degree students who were graduating, along with their families, on Friday at the Breslin Center. In all, there were nearly 8,000 students who graduated from MSU.
Whitmer will also deliver the commencement speech Saturday to students graduating from the University of Michigan.
Flanked by deans, provosts and Board of Trustee members, Whitmer, an MSU alumna, was given an honorary doctor of law degree.
During her speech, Whitmer wove in contemporary touchstones such as Snapchat and avocado toast and even made a joke about the MSU-UM rivalry. But she was serious as she reflected on the current climate in America.
She said she believes 95 percent of humanity is fundamentally good but 5 percent of people are loud, disagreeable, and not interested in collaboration, understanding or compromise.
"The people who live on the tails, they are more interested in starting a fight than a conversation," Whitmer said. "The 5 percent makes us believe we have insurmountable differences ...They have brought back ugliness that we hoped was extinct."
But this didn't happen overnight. It started, she said, before even some of the graduates were born, fueled by tabloids, reality TV and talk radio, with rewards given to bad behavior and outrage in entertainment before it bled over to politics, government, media and family dinners.
"The influence of that 5 percent has grown exponentially," Whitmer said.
"I want you to use you power for good," the governor said. "Although technology has given them a place to evolve and fester, I think their numbers are still the same."
But she challenged graduates to begin their path to shape a better future.
"I am inspired by your generation's passion, activism and courage," Whitmer said. "You give me great hope for our future."
"You have the power to change the world ... I want you to use your power for good. Change the tenor of the conversation."
Earlier in the day, Kirk Cousins, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback and former Spartans star, gave 4.5 nuggets of wisdom to undergraduates during their commencement ceremony.
Among them: Don’t just deliver, over-deliver.
“In whatever role you find yourself in, think about how you can over-deliver. Work like you’re the company president and one day, you may very well be the company president. From Day One, don’t just deliver, over-deliver.”
Cousins, who attended MSU from 2007-11, told graduates that they should choose to see life “through a window and not a mirror.” He explained that most people are “mirror people” and see most of life only through their own successes.
“Window people, on the other hand, go through life making a valuable contribution into the lives of others,” Cousins said. “I challenge you to see life through a window, to be a blessing to the people you cross paths with. Because in the end, that’s just what life is about: People.”
Another reflection from the former Spartan quarterback: “It’s the who, not the what, that will count most.”
“Your joy in life moving forward will come far more from who you do life with than from what you do,” Cousins said. “A great job, done alongside people you don’t enjoy, suddenly becomes a less-than-great job. Conversely, a less-than-great job, done alongside people you really enjoy, becomes a great job. “
The 30-year-old alumnus also told graduates: “Your life is a reflection of the decisions you make.”
He used football as an analogy.
“My effectiveness as a QB has been largely dependent upon my ability to make good decisions,” he said. “Do I audible at the line of scrimmage? If yes, into what play? What’s the protection plan on this play? Will it work or do I need to change it? What is the defense here? Who will be open? When it’s not there, do I throw it away or take a sack? Playing QB in the NFL, and doing it for a long time, hinges largely on my ability to make great decisions.”
But Cousins said good decision-making is even more key in the game of life.
“The Bible puts it this way in Galatians 6:7: 'Whatever a person sows, this they will also reap,’” he said. “Good decisions — be they big or small — will yield good results, while bad decisions yield bad results. And it’s not just the big decisions like who you marry. It’s the everyday decisions, like how you care for health, and how you spend your free time.
"Who you choose to call friends and whether or not you 'just deliver' or 'over-deliver' each and every day. I have made it a habit in life to often ask myself: …Is this a good decision? The bottom line … make enough good decisions and, chances are, things will work out well for you.”
Cousins’ parting word of advice: Enjoy the journey.
“You can prepare for the future today, but you can’t live the future today,” Cousins said. “If your joy in life is always tied to a future experience, you’ll never know joy.”
Afterward, students filed out of the arena, posed for pictures in their caps and gowns, contemplating the future.
"It's a little surreal," said Kirsten Kempisty, who graduated with a degree in psychology and educational studies and is looking for a job in school counseling and plans to attend graduate school.
"It really hasn't set in," she said. "It's sad but really exciting. I'm really excited to see where my next steps will go."