Kindred Spirits

CAFRE Awards Day 2014

College of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE)
Loughry Campus Awards Day 2014
Cookstown, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, June 27, 2014

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, PhD

Kindred spirits

This is indeed a day of celebration, because you all can claim an extraordinary accomplishment.

Today is also a formal way to affirm the great respect MSU, and I personally, hold for this College of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Enterprise. We at Michigan State are committed to strengthening that relationship, and deeply prize our work together.

I know from having done over a hundred commencements, at my own university and elsewhere, that your parents here today have such great pride in you not just because of your accomplishments, but because through your experience at CAFRE, your dreams have grown with you.

And so have your responsibilities. With an education, such as you’ve received here, comes the responsibility to think about the problems of the world over the next 20, 30, 40 years. And those are going to be difficult, because on the world stage, food, food safety and security, the environment, energy, and clean water are all going to be the challenges that you will face.

Because of the degrees that you’ve earned, people will expect you to be able to do more. Not simply to go off to do your job, but to be leaders.

The reason we were so excited 20-plus years ago to be a partner with CAFRE was because we saw the people here as kindred spirits. Both institutions are fundamentally about working together to make the world a better place and to do it every day with our best effort, recognizing that our best effort tomorrow will need to be better than today’s.

Both of our collaborative approaches are tied to our values, our passions, our industry partners, and our knowledge. Our kindred spirit is bold—our institutions are relentless in pursuit of excellence. We live our values, we push boundaries, and we know the value of individual strength and collective power.

Our communities and regions look to us to sustain their economies--to help increase their exports, enhance their productivity, and improve their quality of life. We recognize the need for global vision and presence, but we both understand that to be effective globally, strong roots must be planted in our own backyards because what we learn in one place nourishes our efforts in another.

In Michigan and in Northern Ireland, we understand the importance of a secure, efficient, and effective supply chain. It is critical that farmers, processors, distributors, retailers, and educators work closely together to meet the needs and expectations of the market. Understanding and building these seamless connections is something to which both our institutions can contribute.

On both sides of the ocean we see a rising entrepreneurial interest in agriculture, including artisanal food products. We all can be proud of agriculture’s presence as a source of economic stability, something we saw at work during the last decade’s recession.

But we’re both also seeing fewer family farms, an aging farm population and, sometimes, a poor perception of the industry coupled with a lack of awareness of its opportunities. These are things we can work on together. The coupling of thinking and doing is a hallmark of our kindred spirit.

Michigan State is proud of its global reach and deep research program, but our two institutions bring complementary assets. CAFRE has built deep and productive relationships with your agri-food industry partners. And hands-on, experiential learning at the three CAFRE campuses are the kinds of high-impact learning opportunities we’re striving to more deeply integrate into the undergraduate experience at Michigan State.

That’s part of why I’m so proud to be here, because every time someone from Michigan State comes here, we learn a great deal. And I hope when your people come to Michigan State, they learn a great deal as well. It’s exciting to think about what new opportunities our partnership might produce, whether through faculty sabbaticals, technical exchanges or other programs as we work together to preserve our planet’s assets for the next generation and to solve its grand challenges.

That’s part of what you’re celebrating today, a magical ending and a “forever beginning” that spurs you to dream bigger dreams.

You might not recognize me as a first-generation college student. My story has a sort of technological intersection with Northern Ireland.

Harry Ferguson, who came from County Down, was a mechanical whiz and aviation pioneer early in the 20th century. He was also the developer of a hitch that keeps tractors from rearing up and flipping over on the driver if the plow hangs up on a rock. His enterprise eventually became Massey Ferguson Limited, which today is one of the world’s top agricultural equipment manufacturers.

About the time that company was taking off, I was growing up in rural Indiana where my relatives farmed. My family would, incautiously, let me experiment with driving one of Ferguson’s tractors. I was given the marvelous opportunity even as a child to grab the steering wheel, both literally and figuratively, at a time when young girls weren’t supposed to do things like that. But I wasn’t afraid to do something new or chart a different course.

Each of us must remember that our true calling is to be able to seize that steering wheel every day with confidence and a sense that you are grabbing hold of your future. And, in your case, we can speak in terms of the future of the planet! By 2050, we’ll have nine billion people on earth. Food could be a point of real contention, the environment too. The solutions you craft, even if they might seem small to you, will represent your own skill and boldness in steering the world toward a better place. It sounds onerous, but that’s really the fun of it.

I always close commencement ceremonies with a quote from John Hannah, who was president of Michigan State for 28 years. He talked about commencement as a point in time where, until that moment, the university and its students have been only in a temporary relationship.

At this point I tell my graduates that they are part of Michigan State University forever and that they represent Michigan State wherever they go. And so at this moment, all of you can know with pride that you are a part of CAFRE, now and forever, wherever your life takes you.

College leaders have a tacit understanding with our graduates: Your alma mater will continue to strive every day to improve in quality and reputation and you will be able to take great pride in our growth and development as the years go by. We’ll always be there for you.

Your promise to us is that you understand that wherever you go in the world you’ll be known as a CAFRE graduate, and that the things you do will add real value for all the people who follow you.

It’s a mutual relationship, one reinforcing the other. And I’m very confident that in 10 or 20 years the value of a CAFRE degree will be even greater both because of what CAFRE has done for you and what you will do in the world.

Thank you and congratulations.

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