One can be the difference


This year we’re marking 33 years of celebrating the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on campus. We take this time each year to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, which is the product in no small measure of his leadership, vision, and compassion.

His leadership was certainly a profile in courage, when you think about the obstacles and ultimately the danger he faced. We’re fortunate that the rest of us, who all benefit today from his fortitude, don’t face such daunting prospects. But challenges remain in making this an inclusive and just society.

I get asked a lot about the elements of leadership. One thing I tell people is that we can all be leaders in our own spheres, no matter where we are. You really can lead from anywhere—maybe not in everything and all the times—but there will be a time and a place where by your words and actions you will in some measure steer events.

As America’s pioneer land-grant university, one with very deep roots connecting us to our missions of education, research, and outreach, I think Spartans understand that real engagement includes knowing when to lead and when to listen or follow. It’s a willingness to do both that makes us a good partner in cocreation, be it in Michigan, Mexico, or Malawi.

As we go through the day today, I urge you to reflect on the characteristics of leadership Dr. King demonstrated and how we can learn from them and, perhaps, even model them for others. Our 30th annual march across the “sacred space” of campus from the MSU Union to Beaumont Tower might be quite modest compared to those Dr. King led, but if you look around, you’ll find many opportunities to make a positive difference of your own by stepping up, especially if it’s leadership in service to others.

Many of our students will be out today, pitching in on community service projects. It’s a meaningful expression of support for the vision articulated by Dr. King in his time. Students have always been in the thick of social progress movements—think of the Greensboro sit-ins and the integration efforts that focused on public schools half a century ago.

Times today might not seem as momentous as the civil rights era, but I assure you we also live in challenging times, times when making a difference can hinge on the engagement and leadership of one person.

MLK commemoration schedule of events.



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