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From President Steve Grafton: Defining “Leaders and Best”

Steve Grafton, President and CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan speaks to what make our alumni the leaders that they are. What makes them the best in the world.
Read time: 2 minutes

In my two decades of leadership at the Alumni Association, I’ve been witness to several notable events on the U-M campus. But not many matched the intensity of interest in Michigan athletics last fall.

I certainly understand the devotion to athletics. I follow it myself and am very excited that Jim Harbaugh, the man on the cover of the current issue of Michigan Alumnus, is now leading our football team.

What surprised me was the way athletic issues, particularly those involving football, dominated so many conversations about the University of Michigan. It seemed like the media were focused exclusively on what was happening on South State Street while other incredibly good and important happenings went unmentioned. One University leader put it this way: “I don’t think anyone would have noticed if we’d announced one of our faculty had received a Nobel Prize.” 

The truth is that Michigan athletics is not the primary reason alumni feel connected to and care about the University. It is part of the fabric of our University and is one of the reasons we are great. But alumni know that its academic excellence is the real source of pride.

They know about U-M students who dedicate themselves to turning the good talent they bring to campus into extraordinary talent. They know about faculty who share their knowledge with those students every day. They know about researchers who make cutting-edge discoveries that improve our society. And they know about fellow alumni who are transforming our world through the contributions they make in their jobs and communities.

As you page through your copy of Michigan Alumnus, you’ll see amazing accomplishments in the fields of science and health, the arts and politics: the patient who was able to leave the hospital with an artificial heart that will sustain him until he receives a human heart donation. The technology occurring at the Mobility Transformation Center on North Campus. The long list of alumni elected to office in November.

It is true that Louis Elbel coined the iconic words “Leaders and Best” following a close football victory over the University of Chicago in 1898. However, when we claim to be the Leaders and Best today, we are talking about so much more than football.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What does “Leaders and Best” mean to you? Who is a “Leader and Best” we may not hear about every day?

Yours for Michigan,

Steve Grafton
President and CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

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