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Former MSU football coach Dantonio tells graduates to 'dream big and leave a legacy' at spring convocation

April 26, 2024
Michigan State University students gather outside the Breslin Center after spring convocation on April 26, 2024.
Michigan State University students gather outside the Breslin Center after spring convocation on April 26, 2024.

Thousands of graduates and their family members and friends packed Breslin Center on Friday afternoon for the spring 2024 convocation, an event held for students who will be receiving bachelor's degrees during the spring and summer 2024 semesters.

Before the event started, photographs of the graduates continuously popped up on projection screens throughout the arena, often including phrases like "We are so proud of you!" and "Congratulations!"

Laughs, cries and applause filled the room every few minutes; it was the ultimate bittersweet moment. 

As students quieted down and parents halted their flash photography, flags of each MSU college were held by a student and eventually placed on the side of the stage.

MSU President Kevin Guskiewicz began the convocation with remarks about the graduates' journey at Michigan State University, along with a message about their futures.

"You arrived at this destination in your academic journey by keeping your eyes on the outcome," Guskiewicz said. "Always stay curious; it will always help identify your true north … You'll be on the right track to lead lives of purpose and meaning."

Guskiewicz then introduced Mark Dantonio, former Michigan State football coach and one of the event's speakers.

Dantonio was MSU's head coach from 2007 to 2019, and in that time he became the all-time winningest coach for the Spartans, carried a 114-57 record, and won three Big Ten championships and a Rose Bowl, among other notable victories.

Dantonio received an honorary Doctorate of Education degree, and while he stood to receive it, cheers piled on in support.

"You're a highly accomplished and inspiring coach who's committed your life to providing expansive leadership and development to students in a wide variety of aspects, both on and off the field," Guskiewicz said. "You have cemented your place in college football history and actively serve as an inspiration to Spartans across the nation through dedication, resilience, and winning football."

During his speech, Dantonio talked about the history of Michigan State, reassuring graduates that they can make a difference in the future and that students need to chase their dreams and dream big.

He listed the five goals he aspired to as a coach: make personal relationships with the people you care about; work on your education — even past college — and make sure you have a passion; work as much as you can to get better; be a light in your community; win as much as you can.

"If you have discipline and maturity, you can accomplish everything," Dantonio said. "Tomorrow will not be different unless you change today."

Dantonio said this graduating class can positively change the future, especially when it has the Spartan community with it along the way.

"The Spartan's greatest strength is the warrior standing next to them," Dantonio said. "You will be the ones who carry Michigan State forward in so many different areas of society. Make sure you dream big and leave a legacy."

There was buzz before convocation from people looking forward to hearing Dantonio speak, and nursing senior Emily Bahu was one of them.

"I wanted to come (to the convocation) but was also very excited to hear Dantonio speak," Bahu said. "It's very bittersweet."

Bahu will be working at the University of Michigan Children's Hospital next year, and upon reflecting on the last four years, she said college students should "cherish every moment" and "say yes to everything."

In the closing remarks, Guskiewicz told graduates, "This volume your life story is coming to a close, and a new one is about to open," and said graduates should think about how they want to finish the next one.

"In time, you came together to share this campus, your fellowship and all that it had to share," Guskiewicz said. "You celebrated each other’s triumphs and each other’s adversity. I urge you to stay curious, to stay engaged … and to apply your preparation to the benefit of our society. Congratulations, and Go Green."

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