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Source: USA Today

The University of Michigan’s spring commencement on Saturday featured Zingerman’s Community of Business co-owners and founding partners Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig as the ceremony’s keynote speakers.

Saginaw and Weinzweig founded the business’s first branch, Zingerman’s Delicatessen, in 1982 with just two employees and a $20,000 bank loan. Today, Zingerman’s Community of Business includes eight branches and over six hundred employees. The company earns almost $50 million in sales annually.

The graduation ceremony took place in Michigan’s football stadium – The Big House – with over 9,100 graduates and 45,000 of their friends and family members in attendance.

Photo courtesy Lea Giotto
Photo courtesy Lea Giotto
From a stage centered on the field’s 50-yard-line, Saginaw told students being generous is bound to bring them happiness.

“Joy is a feeling so profound that it sits at the top of the human experience charts,” he said. “Just above love and just below peace and enlightenment. Generosity leads to joy, it’s simple. When you give, you get back more.”

Saginaw told the crowd he has experienced this from the good that the non-profit Food Gatherers has done in the Ann Arbor area and the city’s surrounding Washtenaw county. The company, which collects and distributes food to those in need, was launched by Zingerman’s in 1988.

“Twenty-seven years later, Food Gatherers distributes over 6 million pounds of food every year to our neighbors in need. I feel profound joy for the work Food Gatherers does in our community.”

Zingerman’s has exemplified Saginaw’s belief in the importance of generosity. In 2001, Saginaw and Weinzweig planned to open a business space in the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. The profits of this project going to be put towards building a commercial kitchen in Washtenaw county’s new homeless shelter. In light of 9/11, however, the project was shut down. Saginaw and Weinzweig were shocked when the Zingerman’s partners told the owners they wanted to donate the $250,000 that was needed for the kitchen’s construction. This kitchen now serves over 100,000 meals to the homeless every year.

This story provided the conclusion for Saginaw’s speech.

“So when you leave here today with your must-have list, I invite you to measure your successes not so much by what you gain or accomplish for yourself, but rather what you contribute to others,” he said. “I believe practicing generosity is the way to joy.”

Weinzweig echoed his co-founder’s message of being generous in the context of the making your own choices.

“Every minute we spend worrying, every minute we spend waiting for someone else to improve, is a minute we don’t spend doing something meaningful for the people we care about, or the world or ourselves,” he said.

Weinzweig continued, adding that every student should continue to make the choice to work hard.

“Working hard at learning doesn’t win headlines, but it’s clear to me that the people who keep doing it regularly, almost always live powerfully positive lives,” he said. “

Weinzweig said he believed making these choices is key to living a good life.

“Choosing greatness, choosing to push your own envelope, to find ways to be more generous, to find more joy, to learn more, study harder, to make a more positive difference, is what leads to a great life.

Michigan’s former Central Student Government president Bobby Dishell, who graduated on Saturday from the School of Public Policy, said he enjoyed Saginaw’s and Weinzeig’s speeches.

“Paul and Ari truly complemented each other and expertly weaved stories and messages to pass along what I believe to be great advice,” Dishell said. ”I couldn’t have asked for more from a commencement ceremony. It was beautiful.

Former president of Michigan’s Panhellenic Association Sarah Blegen, who graduated with degrees from the School of Literature, Arts, and Sciences, and the School of Organizational Studies, thought the Zingerman’s founders provided students with significant take-aways.

“Ari and Paul were inspirational in the sense that they demonstrated the impact that Michigan graduates can have on the communities around them and gave me hope that I can make a difference too,” she said. “At first I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that we didn’t have some big name speaking, but Ari and Paul were relatable as human beings and passionate, and they wanted to make sure they impacted us – that really was meaningful to me.”