Founded in 1817, the University of Michigan began as one of the first public research universities in the United States. While the University of Michigan website would lead you to believe that not much of anything happened between 1867 and the present day, this school has been host to a great deal of history, particularly in the 1960’s and 70’s. In 1962, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was formed through the Port Huron Statement. This group was a part of the New Left in America and they were determined to lead the reform of America. Then, a few years later, in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson was invited to give the commencement address and delivered his famous Great Society Speech. This speech was a call to action for the new generation about to emerge into the world. But, why did these two important historical events occur at this university in Ann Arbor, Michigan?
While I cannot give a firm answer to this question which continues to perplex me, I can give an educated guess. The University of Michigan is one of the best schools in the nation. Despite the fact that it is not an Ivy League school, it is somewhat commonly referred to as the “Harvard of the West.” This high academic standing could be one of the reasons for the impact of this school. Additionally, tuition to attend the University of Michigan is rather high, leading to the belief that students attending this school come from upper-middle class, or wealthier, families. The idea that students attending the University of Michigan are given a high-quality education and may come from wealthy families could explain why these students were so influential and were given such an important role in shaping the New Left. While it will continue to bother me that I won’t know for sure what the reason is behind this, I will continue to think, why the Wolverines?