Receiving an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from my alma mater, Wayne State University, as I did today, is one of the proudest moments of my life.
But instead of inspiring nostalgia for my long-gone youthful college days, the distinction makes me think foremost of other young people who are in college or nearing college age.
I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Wayne State. As I told graduates during the commencement ceremony at Ford Field, I attended classes at night while working a full-time job. It took me six years to finish my bachelor’s degree. Back then this was considered untraditional. Nowadays I suspect it is a fairly common storyline among students.
Without question, Wayne State is a different place than it was way back when I attended, when I parked my car each day on unpaved, muddy lots.
But seeing the sea of caps and gowns, I couldn’t help but think back to four years ago, when my son walked across the stage at the Matthei Building to receive his bachelor’s diploma from Wayne State. Afterward he gave me a big hug and said “Thanks, dad, for helping make this happen.”
Commencement ceremonies in many ways represent a passing of the torch — from university faculty and administrators to the new graduates, and from those graduates to the incoming and current crop of students.
I told graduates that I encouraged them to join the ranks of the nearly 60,000 WSU alumni in the Detroit area and use their talents and energy for good. “You can provide the intellectual and creative capital needed to revitalize this city and state,” I said. “You can make a difference right here.”
There’s a lot of debate nowadays about the high costs of higher education, but that’s a debate for another time. From where I sit, the value of a college education has never been greater.
Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.