The Rackham Graduate Exercises ceremony includes keynote remarks by guest speakers.

2023 Rackham Graduate Exercises Speaker

Mary Sue Coleman

Mary Sue Coleman is president emerita of the University of Michigan, and former president of the Association of American Universities.  Previously, she co-chaired the Lincoln Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a strategic effort to preserve the strength of public research universities. She is the first woman to lead UM and, as 13th president, she is considered not only one of its most successful leaders but also its most beloved.

A biochemist by training, her research advanced understanding of immune systems and malignancies. She was president of the University of Iowa from 1995-2002, president of U-M from 2002-2014 and again in 2022. In 2009, Time magazine named her one of the nation’s “10 best college presidents.” Known widely as Mary Sue, she navigated the university through the nation’s worst financial crisis in 50 years, expanding the entire enterprise – research, teaching, alumni relations, facilities, and overall financial health. In her 2002 inaugural speech, she unveiled a major theme of her presidency: unleashing the power and promise of interdisciplinary research. When Pfizer unexpectedly closed its Ann Arbor research center, she purchased the vast site and founded the North Campus Research Complex (2009), dedicating the facilities to interdisciplinary research on cancer, heart disease, advanced transportation, bioinformatics among others, as well as public-private research partnerships, to strengthen and diversify Michigan’s economy. She helped establish the University Research Corridor (2006), a research partnership between U-M, Michigan State and Wayne State universities to spur innovation and economic development for the state. She launched the Interdisciplinary Junior Faculty Initiative (2007) to hire 100 tenure-track junior faculty in key areas: human health, environmental sustainability, alleviation of poverty and the humanities.

Another transformational achievement – controversial at the time – was the Google Books Library Project (2004), an effort by the tech giant to digitize the seven-million volumes that comprised U-M’s library. Despite resistance, Coleman called the project a “public good” and, through persuasion, is credited with convincing other major universities to participate. First, however, came the students. Coleman prioritized students’ learning and living experiences, investing in improvements and enhancements, including $650 million in residential hall upgrades (2004). To monitor the heartbeat of the students firsthand, she participated in the U-M Mentorship Program, meeting one-on-one with incoming freshmen each term and serving as faculty advisor.

With her husband, Ken, she has been one of the most philanthropic presidents in U-M history, endowing global-experience travel scholarships, undergraduate and graduate scholarships, and a life sciences lecture. She led two capital campaigns: The Michigan Difference (2008), which raised $3.2 billion, far exceeding its $2.5-billion fundraising goal, and Victors for Michigan (2018) which set a $4-billion goal which subsequently raised $5.28 billion.

2023 Rackham Graduate Exercises Student Speakers

In addition, remarks will be made by student speakers, chosen by the Student Speaker Selection Committee. This year’s selection includes remarks from the following students:

  • Sara Abou Rashed
  • Michael Gonzalez