What color is your passion?


There’s a lot of pride in wearing and, indeed, living “green” here at Michigan State University. Our Be Spartan Green stewardship campaign reminds us to apply environmental sustainability principles to everyday life.

As I gazed out on a sea of green at the December 12 winter commencement at Breslin Center, however, one of our distinguished honorary degree recipients this semester reminded me of the power of pink––a reflection of her own passion for a worthy cause.

Addressing the baccalaureate degree convocation, Nancy G. Brinker recalled the stigmatization that her sister, Susan G. Komen, endured as she struggled with breast cancer 30 years ago. Many believed it to be communicable, Brinker said, and you couldn’t even say it on television!

Her sister’s death galvanized Brinker in 1982 to found what is now the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists, operating in 125 U.S. cities and several other countries and sponsoring well-known Race for the Cure events. Susan G. Komen for the Cure now is the largest source of nonprofit funds for breast cancer research and treatment, and its signature pink ribbon is recognized worldwide as a sign of hope, support, and solidarity with those affected by this disease.

Her organization’s single-minded dedication to seeking a cure for breast cancer isn’t unlike our own pursuit of research and scholarship that addresses some of the world’s most significant and complex problems, and Brinker graciously noted our cancer research here at MSU.

Brinker stands as a real source of inspiration to all the graduates she addressed. To the Presidential Medal of Freedom conferred on her earlier this year by President Obama, Michigan State was proud to add an honorary doctor of humanities degree.

We also were pleased to recognize several other outstanding individuals with honorary degrees at winter commencement. Richard DeVos, Sr., is well known to most of us as one of the founders of Amway and an active philanthropist and civic supporter in western Michigan—including support for expansion of the MSU School of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids.

Princeton professor Simon Levin’s contributions certainly are on the green side, including research into ecosystems and ecological principles that advance environmental sustainability. He is the founding director of that university’s Environmental Institute and director of its Center for BioComplexity, and he has worked with several MSU faculty members, including Jack Liu, Richard Lenski, Thomas Dietz, and Christopher Klausmeier.

Our other distinguished honorary degree recipients were Robert Tjian, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland, who studies the biochemical steps involved in controlling how genes are turned on and off, and Edward Minskoff, president of Edward J. Minskoff Equities, Inc., a New York-based real estate acquisition and development company.

I am pleased to thank and congratulate all of them—and our own Spartan graduates, whose journeys to living a passionate life are just beginning.


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