Rosa Parks comes home


Rosa Parks came home to Michigan today, and will be laid to rest tomorrow in Detroit.

She was one of those unique individuals: a person of principle who didn’t aspire to fame or recognition, but whose innate sense of justice thrust her into the spotlight 50 years ago.

We all know the story of how she refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and how that simple act of courage set off the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott led by Dr. Martin Luther King, and transformed Rosa Parks into a catalyst for the civil rights movement across the country—a gentle symbol of defiance for others suffering injustices, and an inspiration for generations to come.

We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years, but there’s still a lot to be done. And Rosa Parks’ story is one that shows us how one person can make a profound difference—a transformational difference—simply by applying her values and doing what she knew to be right when she found herself facing a critical moment and decision.

Doing the right thing, even if it isn’t the easy thing, is a challenge that we all need to accept. We need to be prepared to make that kind of decision in all of the things we do. In a university community we all have an even greater responsibility, because so much of what we do every day—even in the routine things—has the potential to shape, to guide, and yes, to inspire those who will be our citizen leaders tomorrow.

The next Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King might be here among us today, we just don’t know. And it can be difficult to see around the next bend, to know what the next set of challenges we’re going to face may be. We don’t know when that moment of decision may be in front of us, when we might be called upon to provide the spark that ignites someone’s dreams, that makes a difference in someone’s life, or when we might have the opportunity to make a choice that will change the course of an entire nation.

So our challenge is to connect with others, to make sure that each person who comes to MSU has the opportunities, the tools and the experiences that will prepare each of them for that moment—and to be the kind of leader, the kind of catalyst or the kind of inspiration that it requires.

That’s a challenge that Michigan State accepted as an institution 150 years ago. Our mission was and is to make a difference for each of our students. And we can see in Rosa Parks’ example how the values and the actions of one person can make a difference for society, moving it forward, transforming it and raising it to a higher level.

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