How Brad Meltzer Used Magic to Make Three U-M Football Legends Appear at Spring Commencement

Desmond Howard, Blake Corum, and J.J. McCarthy surprise graduates.
By Jeremy Carroll


Read time: 3 minutes
Desmond Howard, ’92, Brad Metzler, ’92, HLLD’24, Blake Corum, ’24, and J.J. McCarthy reveal their Block M shirts. Photo by Jeremy Carroll

Spring Commencement speaker Brad Meltzer, ’92, HLLD’24, urged graduates to make and use magic in their lives. Then the best-selling author pulled a couple of magic tricks of his own.

During his address on May 4, Meltzer used magic as a metaphor, saying there are four types of tricks: making something appear, making something disappear, making two things switch places, and changing one thing into another.

He said the graduates should make the best versions of themselves appear, make fear disappear, use empathy to switch places with others, and never stop changing as people.

That’s when he pulled his own trick.

“The best magicians always have a final trick up their sleeve. Sometimes, magic is hiding in front of you the entire time,” Meltzer said before introducing U-M football legend and Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard, ’92.

Earlier in the speech, Meltzer recounted how, at their commencement together, Howard was recognized by a speaker and he struck the famous Heisman Trophy pose in his full cap and gown. Howard reprised the role, running to the middle of the stage and once again striking the famous pose.

But Meltzer wasn’t done providing magic to the thousands inside Michigan Stadium.

Desmond Howard, ’92, strikes the famous Heisman Trophy pose during the Spring Commencement. Photo by Sean Yuille, ’12.

He then called upon Blake Corum, ’23, and J.J. McCarthy, stars of the national championship-winning football team. All four came to the center of the stage and unzipped their graduation gowns to reveal Block M shirts.

The crowd of more than 8,500 graduates and about 70,000 family members and friends rose to their feet, cheering wildly. Among the graduates was Meltzer’s son, Jonas Meltzer, ’24, who also had no clue what his dad had up his sleeve.

During sound check the day before the ceremony, Meltzer had staff turn down his microphone for fear that someone outside the stadium would overhear and spoil the surprise. He even kept his speech locked in a safe at his hotel.

Shortly after he was asked to be the speaker, Meltzer pitched Howard the idea and Howard immediately said yes.

“His generosity and love of Michigan is what made it all possible,” Meltzer said after the ceremony.

Meltzer wanted to include Corum and McCarthy, but knew that was going to be more difficult as both were recently drafted into the NFL. He said Howard and U-M athletics mentor Greg Harden, ’78, MSW’81, were key to getting the two of them on board, but nothing was confirmed until just days before the ceremony.

“Most of all, none of this could’ve happened without Greg Harden,” Meltzer said. “A true Michigan legend.”

He also had high praise for McCarthy and Corum.

“J.J. and Blake are incredible and kind young men,” Meltzer said. “They will be inspiring generations of Michigan alums — we are all lucky for it.”

He said Howard, Corum, and McCarthy signed a football for his son before they went on stage as a graduation gift.

“My wife [Cori] said that we were trying to pull off a magic trick that we never practiced, had the highest degree of difficulty, and we had no idea if it would work,” Meltzer said. “So as we were pulling open our shirts, I just remember thinking, ‘I think this might work.’”

Meltzer was presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Other honorary degrees were also given to Alexa Canady, ’71, MD’75, groundbreaking neurosurgeon, Doctor of Science; Judith and Stanley Frankel, philanthropists, Doctor of Laws; and Robin Givhan, MA’88, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Doctor of Laws. Approximately 15,100 students were eligible to graduate from U-M.

“I find words for a living, and I have no words for this day,” Meltzer said the day after the ceremony. “Just the magic words themselves: Go Blue!”

For a complete photo gallery of the 2024 Spring Commencement, click here.

Jeremy Carroll is the content strategist of the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan.

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