The Ann Arbor News - April 29, 2007
Searching for, and finding, signs of hope
We'll be hearing a lot about new beginnings this weekend - both the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University are holding their commencements over these two days, formally sending graduates into the next phase of their lives.
Beginnings are such hopeful times, often signaling welcome transformation. But beginnings can also be tempered with fear and anxiety. And in Michigan, those emotions are evident as we struggle through our own new beginnings, some sought, some pushed upon us.
Although expected, news last week that Toyota outsold General Motors for the first time added to the anxiety of many in Michigan, who've watched from the front lines as the once dominant American auto industry weakens. GM has been the world's largest automaker for three-quarters of a century - it's tough to imagine a world in which GM isn't in the lead.
But it's not the end of the world if they aren't.
We face challenging times, no doubt, from the state's budget crisis and its very direct impact on local communities to the struggles of our core auto industry. And when we look beyond Michigan's boundaries - at the recent Virginia Tech shootings, at the ongoing war in Iraq - it's easy to despair.
We need hope, the kind that new beginnings bring. And we can find it.
We find hope in employers who've chosen to move to this community, and those who've chosen to stay. Google is the most obvious example of a company that is bringing new jobs here, but there are others. And startup companies, like Pipex Therapeutics and Compendium Bioscience, hold promise of becoming much more significant employers in the future.
There's hope, too, in long-time employers that continue to invest in their local operations. One recent example is the $12 million investment that Chrysler Group is making in its 3,850-acre Chelsea Proving Grounds, located in Sylvan Township. The automaker, which employs about 750 people at that site, is rebuilding its six-lane, 4.71-mile concrete testing track - known as the Oval - inside the facility.
Borders Group, another long-time Ann Arbor business, is building a new superstore on the south side of town and another in Canton. ForeSee Results, a newer company, recently got $20 million in venture capital to expand its business here.
# We find hope in partnerships that strengthen this area's economy. The University of Michigan, for example, is leasing space soon to be vacated by Pfizer. U-M will in turn sublease the facility to Ann Arbor Spark, this area's economic development agency. The space will be used as a research lab and incubator for startup biotech companies.
# We find hope in the work of Zeitouna, a group of 12 local women - six Jewish, six Arabic - who've been meeting for almost five years to bridge the divide and build understanding between these two cultures. The title of a documentary based on their experiences, "Refusing to Be Enemies,'' speaks volumes about the underlying intent of their work. At a time when tensions are high in the Middle East - and in some cases in our own community - we find hope in the individuals whose actions are uniting, not divisive.
We find hope in the strength of our educational institutions, which fortify us in ways both obvious and subtle. From the graduates who remain here to start their own businesses or who return years later to take leadership roles in our community, our universities and colleges play a crucial role. And as Sally Bromley so poignantly notes in her Other Voices essay published today, we often have no idea how the things we learn will affect our lives. She credits the education her son received at Washtenaw Technical Middle College for helping him escape direct harm at Virginia Tech, where he's studying computer programming.
To say that all is well in our world obviously would stretch reality. It's easy to catalogue our crises - and those certainly need our attention and energy.
Yet in many ways, like this weekend's graduates, we face a new beginning. And we can't let fear drain our hopes, or make us believe our best days are in the past.