“Do Good. Be Good. Make Michigan Proud.” Eric Fanning Gives Positive Charge to University of Michigan Engineering Graduates

Michigan native Eric Fanning knew he faced an immediate challenge when he stood before hundreds of students, teachers and family members to give the graduation address to the University of Michigan College of Engineering class of 2018 on the last Saturday in April.  The school had thoughtfully provided academic regalia for Fanning featuring the green and white colors of his alma mater, Dartmouth College.  So, at the start of his remarks, Fanning jokingly told the audience that he did not attend or was partial to Michigan’s in-state rival, the Michigan State University green and white clad Spartans.

With that bit of clarification out of the way, and with the added mentioning that as Secretary of the Army, in a nod to his Michigan upbringing and University of Michigan loyalties his code name was “Wolverine,” Fanning, AIA’s President and CEO, encouraged the students to focus on four themes that will help them be successes in life.

First, Fanning urged the graduates to take a whole of person approach and embrace the arts and humanities, and appreciate how Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) and the liberal arts “intertwine and lift each other.” He mentioned serving on a recent panel in which astronauts Cady Coleman and Nicolle Stott expressed how they brought up to the International Space Station with them respectively a flute and painting supplies because they value highly both the arts and science.

Eric Fanning addresses the 2018 Class of the University of Michigan’s School of Engineering. (Source: Joseph Xu/Michigan Engineering)

He then turned to public engagement, remarking, “For those who are American citizens and those who one day will become citizens – and I wish as a country we were smarter about finding paths to citizenship for those who are educated in the United States and want to stay – please take the honor of being an American citizen seriously.” Fanning called upon the graduates to “join the ranks of engineers and scientists who are becoming more engaged in public policy and civic life.”  Commenting that “the increasingly fast iteration of technological advancement, and the profound ways that it is changing our lives means that we have to engage with each other to work through what this means for our future,” Fanning said that issues such as the incorporation of millions of drones into our national airspace, for example, require a combination of technological advancement from industry and rules and processes from government to ensure safety.

Opportunities materialize at unexpected times and in unexpected ways, because we work hard, do the right thing, and take care of those around us.

The matter of integrity, said Fanning, is truly a “North Star” for those who wish to be successful in life. “When people ask me how to survive Washington – something different from succeeding – I give the same advice to those who are fresh out of school as to those who arrive after long careers elsewhere,” he commented. “Know who you are and what you believe and what integrity means to you, so that you can recognize quickly when you are being asked to act against your values.”

Photo: Levi Hutmacher/Michigan Engineering

Finally, Fanning called upon the students to recognize that “opportunities don’t always result from specific actions we take for specific paths. They most often materialize at unexpected times and in unexpected ways because we work hard, do the right thing, and take care of those around us.” Fanning then said, “This isn’t to say you shouldn’t set goals and work to achieve them. But success often means you’ll meet with surprise. Allow yourself to be open to those surprises – to seize opportunities you never expected.”

As AIA’s President and CEO, Fanning has continued to focus on STEM programming and workforce development to inspire the next generation of men and women who will comprise a 21st century aerospace and defense workforce.