Reach for the stars

UND President Mark Kennedy goes a bit ‘rogue’ in first commencement address with inspirational and intergalactic twists

UND President Mark Kennedy

UND President Mark Kennedy presides over his first commencement ceremony for the University on Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. Photo by Shawna Schill.

It is a very special day, President Mark Kennedy said Dec. 15, as he presided over his first commencement ceremony.

“It has been long anticipated — finally, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is about to hit a theater near you!”

Both Star Wars and the success of UND alumni, Kennedy said, provide insights for graduates as they begin charting their course in life.

Around 950 degree candidates were eligible to walk across the stage in three ceremonies Dec. 15 and 16.

In the first ceremony for graduate students, 197 were candidates for master’s degrees, 30 for doctorates, and 10 for professional degrees. The second and third ceremonies, divided by academic college, had 683 undergraduates eligible to receive degrees.

The ceremonies were carried via Facebook Live for the first time, and also featured distance education graduates, whose names were read.

UND President Mark Kennedy at commencment

Kennedy used a Star Wars theme throughout his commencement address to layout steps to success for succeeding in careers and life. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Greetings from the State Board of Higher Education were presented by Kathleen Neset, chair.

“Thank you for placing your trust in UND and the University System,” Neset said. Graduation, she said, is the epitome of the goal of the Board: student success.

“There will be bad times and good times,” she said. “This is one of the good times. Stop and enjoy it, and celebrate with the ones you love.”

Steps to success

Back on the Star Wars theme in his remarks, Kennedy highlighted steps to success — for both Luke Skywalker and UND’s well-known alumni.

“No matter where you come from, you can change the world,” Kennedy said, noting that NASA astronaut and alumna Karen Nyberg came from a town of just 78 people.

“Your liberal arts base from UND will help you succeed in not just your first job, but whatever hyperspace lies in your future,” Kennedy said. Luke Skywalker needed a wide range of skills, and so do UND graduates, he noted.

UND Winter Commencement

A group of new UND graduates take time to pose together for a photo immediately after UND’s 2016 Winter Commencement event on Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Embracing diversity is essential to success.

At UND, Kennedy said, “Phil Jackson distilled insights from Zen and American Indian religious practices that enabled him to motivate players.” From Jedi Master to Wookie, from droid and princess, engaging a wide range of beings is essential.

Without risk, there is no reward.

Alumnus Chester Fritz, for whom UND’s auditorium and library are named, was one of the earliest traders in China. When you stumble, you must dust yourself off and get back on your feet, Kennedy said. Chester Fritz was placed in an internment camp in Shanghai for 14 months during World War II, and was then able to resume trading — this time in Hong Kong and other locations.

Devote yourself to being part of something bigger.

“Luke Skywalker achieved little in his own name,” Kennedy said. Others were inspired by him because he was devoted to restoring freedom and order in the universe. Similarly, alumnus and Judge Ronald Davies issued the landmark ruling to desegregate the Little Rock, Ark., Public Schools, during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement.

To accomplish great deeds, Kennedy said, you must never give up and never lose hope. Era Bell Thompson, whose family was the only black family in Driscoll, N.D., tied two national track records until pleurisy forced her to leave UND. She moved to Chicago and returned to North Dakota to help her family. She persevered, and became editor of Ebony magazine for four decades.

“The lessons from Star Wars and UND alums is this,” Kennedy said: “Never lose hope in your ability to change the world for the better. We have done our best to impart the educational foundation and appreciation of diversity you need to succeed. It is left to you to take risks, bounce back when you stumble, devote yourself to a bigger cause, and never, ever give up until you achieve your destiny.”