By: Caroline Martin
The University of Michigan, in its two-hundred years of operation, has been called home by a countless number of students, faculty and staff. With over 500,000 living alumni, every individual that has walked across the Diag, careful to avoid the block “M”, has a unique story of their time in Ann Arbor and how their experience shaped the person they are today.
Five years ago, Mason Hall was where I had my first ever high school debate round at the University of Michigan’s Annual Policy Debate Tournament. Today, it’s where majority of my classes are. As a freshman in high school, I never anticipated I would be spending so much time in this random building years later. And in a decade, Mason Hall may mean something completely different to me. My parents, as college freshman, probably thought of Mary Markley Residence Hall as one of the dorms on the Hill, and not the building where their future child would live. My grandpa thought of Angell Hall Auditorium C as where his Political Science lecture was held Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11am and not where his granddaughter would also take a Political Science class, in the exact same room, at the exact same time, over fifty years later. My great-great uncle most likely did not anticipate never returning to campus again after graduation in June of 1940. My family has taught me you can’t foresee the impact this university will have on you, but it will prepare you for the changes you’re not even aware of yet.
On December 6, 1941, Francis C. Flaherty (’40), a recent University of Michigan graduate, was aboard the USS Oklahoma in Pearl Harbor, having enlisted in the naval reserve just after graduation. He mailed Christmas cards to several friends and family that evening. In the morning, when the USS Oklahoma was capsizing and the order was given to evacuate, Ensign Flaherty remained in a turret, knee-deep in water, and held a flashlight so the remainder of the crew could escape thereby sacrificing his own life. My great-great uncle was twenty-two years old. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and a destroyer escort was later launched in his namesake.
Seventy-Six years after his death, I visited the German U-505 Submarine at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It was the only capture by American forces of a German submarine on the high seas during the war. The capture was top-secret and her code books and Enigma machine allowed Allied forces to decipher German communications and consequently win the war. When Francis C. Flaherty enlisted in the naval reserve, he probably didn’t expect to be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and have a destroyer escort in his name, the U.S.S. Flaherty, capture the game-changing German submarine that his great-great niece would visit in a museum decades later. At his graduation ceremony in 1940, he wasn’t thinking about any of that and he couldn’t have possibly predicted the effect this university would have on his character. While difficult to measure, I have to believe his selfless and formidable nature was in some part the result of his college years.
Bart Huthwaite (’60) never had a dull moment at U of M. As a writer for the Michigan Daily, an Evans Scholar and a member of Sigma Delta Chi, a professional journalism fraternity, he kept busy. (He even worked as a busboy for the Delta Delta Delta Sorority, the organization his daughter would join twenty years later). Amidst his activities, Huthwaite found time to write a story about a group of Michigan football players who were involved in a gambling card scandal in 1958. The story made national news headlines, such as Sports Illustrated, because it highlighted the gambling epidemic across the nation. While technically illegal, everyone was doing it. The Michigan Football Team was subsequently not pleased with my grandfather’s investigative journalism and took it upon themselves to hang him in effigy in the Diag, that is, they nailed a dummy to a tree and painted on it “Barton Huthwaite”.
When the hype from that ordeal had calmed, Huthwaite needed a relaxing spring break vacation. Naturally, that meant going down to Cuba with a fellow Daily writer to interview none other than Fidel Castro. (At this point, he was not in power yet and the country was still being run by Batista). My grandfather and his friend checked into their hotel and were woken up the next morning by the police who kindly escorted them in a military jeep to prison. They had met with someone from the New York Times earlier, who noticed they were missing the next day and reported the incident to the embassy. My grandpa, in the meantime, was in Cuban prison for three days. In the rooms next door, they were executing people. He recalls hearing the firing squads. Although, it may have worked out because their hotel room was bombed while they were in prison. My grandpa and his friend were blindfolded and put on a plane back to Havana and then the States.
1958 was really quite a year for Bart Huthwaite. But how could he be expected to graduate without having one last adventure? In the summer of 1959, he was apart of a four-man group that attempted the first motorized transit of the Darien Gap, the jungle that separates Panama and Colombia. They left from Ann Arbor on brand-new BMW motorcycles in leather jackets. “The jacket was my pillow, my suitcase, and my protection from the elements”. They made it to Costa Rica but had to turn back because they ran out of money (broke college student struggles have stood the test of time).
Bart Huthwaite graduated from Michigan in 1960 with a B.A. in Political Science and Journalism. He married my grandma, Nina Perry, and they moved to New Orleans where he completed his masters in Latin American Affairs from Tulane University. My grandparents raised their two kids in Rochester, Michigan. Huthwaite is still working as the President of Huthwaite Innovation Institute, an international consulting firm. He spends his summers with his family on Mackinac Island, Michigan. Huthwaite was the former Commodore of the Mackinac Island Yacht Club and is still affectionately known around the island as “The Commodore”. U of M inspired my grandpa’s incredible adventures and still does.
The Scholarly Frat Boy
As if I wasn’t already overshadowed by my family’s achievements, enter Sean B.W. Martin (’84). After receiving admission to both Yale and Stanford, he chose to attend undergrad at the University of Michigan because he “went to a football game and enjoyed the atmosphere and people”.
My dad arrived to his first class, taught by Professor Michael Brooks, in a button down and tie and sat in the front row. Brooks, who ended up being one of Martin’s greatest mentors and friends, recalls thinking “asshole”. Sean turned a twenty-page paper into a forty-page and received the only A plus Brooks ever gave. He graduated early in three years from the LSA Honors College with a B.A. in History with highest distinction. Martin was a Rhodes Scholar candidate and somehow managed to get a grade point average above 4.0, which to me is seemingly impossible. He graduated Harvard Law School magna cum laude.
If you’re wondering, yes, he was that kid in class, the arrogant overachiever who drives you insane but you also envy completely. Martin still remembers his ACT scores and high school grades. I graduated last year and I don’t even remember those. But the worst part of his resume is that, out of all things, he was a frat boy. In some ways, he still is.
By day, a scholar. By night, the DJ at Phi Gamma Delta. The only thing he took more seriously than his grades was the playlist. R.E.M. and Devo were all the rage (after all, it was the 80s) and as my dad says, “music makes the party”. I’ll concede that truer words have never been spoken. There was a brief pause between songs, a moment of quiet, as you heard the clicking of a cassette tape into place. The fraternity dog, Alphi, was licking spilt beer by the keg in the other room. On the floor, there was a “slide” made up of mostly beer, ketchup and really whatever else they had in the kitchen that fraternity men took turns gliding in. Between Martin’s social and academic schedules, I truly do not believe my father ever slept during his college years.
My dad eventually grew out of his taste for cheap beer and instead developed a love for fine wines. His “party one” mix on cassette tapes turned into a “soft dinner party” playlist on an iPod. He clerked for a Federal Judge in Alaska and eventually became a Federal Prosecutor in Chicago. Martin worked in private practice until he moved to in-house corporate law. He’s now the VP/General Counsel of Baxter International, Inc. The education he received at Michigan made his career possible, but his fraternity brothers made his character. And as it turns out, once and if they mature, frat boys have potential. Sean Martin may allude the facade of a serious, snotty scholar but you’ll never meet anyone who throws a better party or makes more obscure pop culture references. Michigan developed him as an academic but provided a necessary outlet for his wild side that prevented his personality from being equivalent to the color beige.
Heather Huthwaite (’89), a true icon, married Sean Martin in 1997. Her father, Bart Huthwaite, was extra excited she had found a fellow Wolverine. Although they attended the same school, they could not be more different. At the wedding, my grandpa leaned over to my dad and said, ”She’s your responsibility now”.
Heather grew up in Rochester, Michigan. She was voted worst driver in high school. Once she went camping on an island and in the middle of night called her dad to pick her up by boat because it was cold. My mom entered the University of Michigan with bottle-blonde hair, a positive attitude and although she’ll deny it, a truly genius secret identity.
She was a Delta Delta Delta with good style and a bad shopping habit. While she didn’t receive a Medal of Honor, attempt to interview Castro or graduate early from the Honors College, she’s my favorite story to tell out of all my family members who’ve attended Michigan. My mom seemingly fits the stereotype of a “sorority girl”, who puts an emphasis on her social life and the max on her credit card (which is a problematic assumption within itself). But Heather Martin is a sorority woman.
Sororities were originally founded as organizations to support women in a time where we were outnumbered on college campuses. Most of them were founded before women even had the right to vote. By their very definition and history, sororities are female empowerment organizations created because a handful of women hundreds of years ago were brave enough to stand against misogyny and under the disguise of a “ladies club”, earned degrees and out competed men in their own field. Heather Huthwaite sat quietly and allowed people to assume what they would of her. In the meantime, she graduated with a B.A. in Political Science and went to law school. When she married my dad, she was earning more than him. My mother’s licensed to practice in three states. Furthermore, she did all of that in a Chanel suit and heels.
Michigan taught my mom that people will assume things about you because you dress a certain way or associate with specific people. You can be what everyone expects you to or you can smile and let them believe what they will because you can’t change that. But you can get a Juris Doctor. And if one day you decide that you’d rather take spontaneous weekend vacations and become a level four member at Nordstrom’s, be successful enough that you have that option for yourself. It’s not a bad thing to be Heather Martin.
My mother’s license plate is “U MCHGAN”. Every year, she decorates thirteen Christmas trees; one is Michigan themed. My father exclusively wears Michigan apparel. Our Australian Labradoodle is named “Maizy”. The dog alone has four different Michigan outfits. Our kitchen utensils have little M’s on them. There’s a flag hanging outside our house and stickers on all of our cars. When I was five, my parents dressed my brother and I up as a Michigan football player and cheerleader for Halloween and had photos professionally taken of us. We bleed the maize and blue.
It was virtually inconceivable I would attend anywhere else. But Michigan means something different to every person. So my experience, while so far phenomenal, will be nothing like my family’s. I really can’t expect where this University is going to take me, what it’s going to mean to me or how it will change me. I understand Michigan is impacting me at this very moment. It’s providing me with opportunities and influencing my choices. I’m incredibly excited to see what the future holds, though I don’t pretend to have any slight inkling as to what that is.
The unique thing about Michigan is the vastly divergent experiences students have and the many different types of people who have been impacted by the block M. Whether you’re a hero, an adventurer, a scholar, a princess or anything else, the University of Michigan helped you become that.