Mary Sue Coleman,
The University of Michigan
ceremony, the University of Kentucky
your own hoops”
you, President Todd, for inviting me to speak at today’s
thank you also to the Trustees, to the distinguished faculty
members, many of whom once were my colleagues, and to the
families and friends of the graduates.
above all, I want to greet the talented class of 2003!
a pleasure it is for me to join you for the celebration of
this commencement, this new beginning for all of you
graduating on this glorious day.
see joy on your faces today, and sense the jubilation of the
conclusion of your journey here. But for most of us at Commencement, that joy is
always tinged with a bit of melancholy.
are moving on to new adventures, but are leaving behind an
intense life of scholarship, friends, and routines.
people you have come to know at UK have created a circle of
experience that has greatly expanded the sphere of family
and friends you knew when you first arrived here. With today’s ceremony, you are about to begin
expanding your lives even further.
can find perspectives on the cycles of life in many
Native American Lakota tribe has a spiritual concept for the
interconnections of our lives, which they call the “sacred
hoop.” The beauty of the sacred hoop is its linkage of all aspects
of life: nature,
humanity, and spirituality.>
your lives constantly evolve, you will continue to re-shape
your personal hoops, leaving some elements behind, and
always adding new components: new family, new friends, new locations.
the elation and sadness of life-changing events is a
remember experiencing these mixed emotions when I departed
from the University of Kentucky in 1990, after working on
this beautiful campus for nineteen years.
my own circle still includes wonderful friends I made here,
even though my own hoop of life has expanded to include
experiences I had not imagined when I left my faculty
is a profound honor to be asked to return to Kentucky – my
roots are very deep in this beautiful bluegrass state. Like many of you, I am a native Kentuckian, as was my
father, his parents, and our ancestors dating back to the
period before the Revolutionary War.
I found a sixth-grade essay written in 1926 by my
now-deceased father. After
World War I, my grandfather and his young family briefly
left Kentucky to look for better work. Like many Kentuckians of that time, they moved to
Detroit, but the relocation didn’t last long. In his sixth-grade essay, my dad wrote:
summer we took a motor trip to Detroit. We were there about six weeks. I thought I would like it up there but I didn’t. The trip was fine but Detroit is a large city and
there is no room for slingshots.”
live near Detroit now, and I can tell you firsthand that my
father was absolutely right! So they moved back to Richmond, Kentucky, where there
was plenty of room for slingshots!
University of Kentucky has provided a path of opportunity
for many fellow Kentuckians, including my father, who earned
a Master of Science degree here.
family connection to Kentucky is now continuing into the
next generation. With
me today are my husband, Ken, and our son, Jonathan.
raised Jonathan in Lexington. Although he now lives in Colorado, he has found a
lovely way to keep his Kentucky heritage alive. Last year, he married a wonderful young woman from
Kentucky, Aimee. In
fact, they will be celebrating their first anniversary
also cultivates his Kentucky roots by continuing to be an
intense fan of Wildcats basketball!
own experience at UK started very inauspiciously. I came here in 1971 as a faculty spouse, when my husband was
appointed an assistant professor in Political Science. We arrived with baby Jonathan in tow and I had
virtually no prospects to be invited to join the faculty.
I did have was a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University
of North Carolina, a salary grant from the National
Institutes of Health, and an intense desire to work.
Biochemistry Department appointed me as a postdoctoral
fellow, and I immersed myself in building a research
program. It was
a challenging time, but it was exciting to be part of a
growing department and a university focused on rapid
advancement. Eventually, because of my research and teaching
activities, I was invited to join the faculty, an event that
was the catalyst for my eventual academic career.
think the genius of this place during the years of President
John Oswald and beyond was having the faculty participate in
so much of the crucial work of the university.
were tapped to do important work inside UK – building
research institutes, reforming graduate education, finding
ways to diversify the faculty and student body, providing a
voice for women, recruiting university leaders, and even
serving on the Board of Trustees.
faculty had a very large stake in the future of the
University – and we knew we could transform UK into a
national university, with the support of the right
leadership and state investment.
have carried the UK faculty values with me in all my
subsequent positions, and I continue to revel in those
wonderful years here, when we were so dedicated to our
investment in shaping the university.
I think back over the 32 years since I first set foot on the
UK campus, I am struck by the enormous upheaval in higher
education and in society in general. Our country is still experiencing changing
demographics that require all of us to understand and to
work with each other in new ways.
all of you, and particularly those who will emerge as
leaders, the ability to grow and to draw upon the wisdom of
many traditions will be crucial.
do have a favorite modern parable about diverse traditions,
and it is a parable especially appropriate for this
mentioned the concept of sacred hoops earlier. You may be familiar with that term from a book
written by Phil Jackson, coach of the Chicago Bulls during
their run of six NBA championships, and now of the Los
Angeles Lakers, who have also had a bit of success.
titled his book Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior. In the book, he describes how he drew upon the spirituality
of the Lakota tribe for the principles of his own success in
building teams, both in basketball and in life.
a child in North Dakota, Coach Jackson found basketball to
be a refuge from the intensive religious atmosphere at his
home. While he
played with Lakota children, he learned the culture of the
Sioux people. From
them, he absorbed a philosophy that he later incorporated
into coaching the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.
began to believe, as the Lakotans believed, that humans are
one with the universe, and that the spirit of the universe
dwells in each person. He had seen that the Lakotans were motivated for
their ethic directed them to work as a team rather than to
attain individual glory.
of course, is an essential element of any successful team,
and Coach Jackson employed this concept, and other aspects
of Lakota spirituality, to build a dramatically successful
team concept for the Chicago Bulls.
example, he started and ended each practice in a circle to
symbolize that the team was forming its own sacred hoop.[i]
think Phil Jackson’s perspective struck me with particular
force because of an experience I had as provost at the
University of New Mexico. There, one of the most enjoyable parts of my job was
working with a program we called One-on-One. We paired entering students with faculty members, to help
students become acclimated to the university setting.
chose to be paired with a Native American student from the
northern Cheyenne people.
Indian name was Horse Comes Running; her name for the
majority culture was Karina.
assumed that I, as the mentor, would be helping this young
woman cope with registration, financial aid, and, in
general, making her way through the university system.
I was unprepared for the lessons she would teach me.
most memorable of those lessons came in November of that
husband, Ken, and I often extended invitations to
Thanksgiving dinner to students who were not going to be
with their families. And
so it was natural for me to ask Karina to join us for the
was amazed when she looked at me seriously and said: “You know, for us, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning.”
had never really thought about this holiday from the
perspective of peoples who were forced from their lands.
the shock on my face, Karina very graciously said she would
love to join us, but asked if she could recite for us some
songs and prayers of the Cheyenne.
we had a wonderful and very meaningful Thanksgiving that
came with a gift of a sacred pouch, an offering of good luck
for our home. She
sang for us and recited prayers about the sadness of her
extended family and other students were there – and while
it was a different celebration from any we had ever
experienced, it made us think more deeply about what this
holiday really signifies to the United States.
all the succeeding years, my appreciation for Thanksgiving
has been more complex because my Cheyenne friend helped me
to confront the sacrifices made by Native Americans. Karina expanded our holiday circle – and helped us
form a more inclusively American sacred hoop.
though she no longer sits at our Thanksgiving table, her
presence is always there.
hope you have had similar experiences at the University of
Kentucky – and will weave those experiences into your own
accumulation of cherished friends and traditions will
continue to enrich your lives.
have had encounters like that Albuquerque Thanksgiving
throughout my life.
the power of those experiences has made me believe
passionately in the need to have a society that welcomes all
cultures and backgrounds.
now, I have the privilege of leading the university that is
defending affirmative action, the policy that has provided
access to students from a variety of cultures, who otherwise
might not have had the opportunity to attend our
are engaged in an historic struggle to preserve admissions
policies that serve the widest possible array of communities
within the United States. Last month, the University of Michigan stood before
the Supreme Court to make its case.
asked the court to affirm America, by re-affirming
all learn from each other, from differing perspectives and
holding open the doors of opportunity for students from all
backgrounds, we are building a stronger and more vibrant
University of Kentucky has generated opportunity for you. Use your education to generate benefits for yourself
and those you love, but also to work on behalf of the larger
communities of which we are all a part.
you expand your own circles, I ask you to extend the hand of
fellowship and sisterhood, to create a sacred hoop that is
more fully American, more inclusive, and more responsive to
sit here today as part of the sacred hoop of the life of the
University of Kentucky. You are linked to the generations of alumni who
preceded you, and to the generations who have not yet been
also sit here today at the center of your own personal
hoops, surrounded by family and friends who love you, and
you are joined in spirit by those who could not be here
though you are leaving the University today, as I did in
1990, remember there will be times that it will call you
home – and I hope you will follow my example and answer
can tell you that coming home to celebrate your roots is a
complete joy, and will immerse you in the many layers of
your circle of life.
wish you success and continued joy.
luck and Godspeed!
[i] Phil Jackson and Hugh
Delehanty, Sacred Hoops:
Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior (New
York, 1995), p. 112.