Sense of celebration

Commencement ceremonies will honor more than 2,000 new grads

This year’s commencement proceedings mark the third-largest in UND’s history, helped in part by the University’s strategic plan initiative to increase graduation rates. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

A great graduation experience.

That’s the goal of the four spring commencement ceremonies next week for the third-largest class of graduates in UND history. A total of 2,064 students are eligible for graduation, the largest class since 2014, which had 2,115 eligible graduates, and 2016, with 2,072 students.

Candidates this year include 1,362 undergraduate students, 536 graduate students, 72 M.D. students and 94 law students. It’s a result of UND’s Strategic Plan initiative to increase graduation rates and break barriers to help undergraduates finish in four years.

“We want all our graduates to have a great experience, and for our students and their guests to feel welcome and taken care of,” said Fred Wittmann, director of ceremonies and university events. “We want to make sure every graduate crosses the stage and gets time in the spotlight. That’s important for students, their families and guests.”

To ensure that attention – and to accommodate students and guests – UND will hold four ceremonies this spring.

They are:

  • School of Law commencement: 10 a.m. Saturday, May 4, at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. The speaker is Patti Alleva, Rodney & Betty Webb Professor of Law, UND.
  • UND graduate student commencement: 9 a.m. Saturday, May 11, at the Alerus Center. The speaker is Heidi Heitkamp, former U. S. Senator from North Dakota and honorary degree recipient.
  • UND undergraduate student commencement, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 11, at the Alerus Center. The speaker is Heather Wilson, Secretary of the U. S. Air Force
  • School of Medicine & Health Sciences M.D. ceremony, 2 p.m. Sunday, May 12, at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. The speaker is Walter Kemp, M.D., Ph. D., Associate Professor of Pathology, UND SMHS.

Honorary degrees

The Alerus Center is expected to be filled to the rafters for the largest ceremony, the one for undergraduate students, at which Josh Duhamel, Hollywood actor and North Dakota native, will receive an honorary degree. Heather Wilson, secretary of the U.S. Air Force, will speak at the ceremony, which is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 11 at the Alerus Center.

Wittmann said he expects about 8,200 students and guests at that ceremony, and recommends coming early. Parking is free.

The commencement ceremony for graduate students is set for 9 a.m. Saturday, May 11, at the Alerus Center. Heidi Heitkamp, former U.S. Senator from North Dakota and a UND alumna, will speak. She will also receive an honorary degree, along with Clay Lacy, aviation pioneer and entrepreneur.

It’s unusual for a commencement speaker to also receive an honorary degree, said Wittmann, adding it’s only happened a couple of times in 15 years.

Two new Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorships will be awarded that morning to Thomasine Heitkamp, professor of nursing, and Kent Lovelace, professor and director of aviation industry relations.

UND is bringing in multiple speakers and honorary degree recipients for its spring commencement ceremonies, including former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Hollywood actor Josh Duhamel and aviation legend Clay Lacy. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

About the speakers

Heather Wilson

Heather Wilson is the 24th Secretary of the Air Force and is responsible for the affairs of the Department of the Air Force.  She oversees an annual budget of more than $138 billion.

The Hon. Heather Wilson

Wilson has more than 35 years of professional experience in a range of leadership and management roles in the military, higher education, government and private industry. Before assuming her current position, Wilson was president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City.

From 1998 to 2009, Wilson was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Before being elected to Congress, Wilson was a cabinet secretary in New Mexico state government. From 1989 to 1991, she served on the National Security Council staff as director for defense policy and arms control for President George H.W. Bush.

From 1991 to 1995 and again from 2009 to 2013, Wilson was in the private sector.

She enrolled in the U.S. Air Force Academy’s third class to include women and graduated with a B.S. degree in 1982.  She served as an Air Force officer from 1982 to 1989 and also attended Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar, earning master’s and doctoral degrees in international relations. She will leave her post as Air Force Secretary on May 31 to assume the presidency of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Heidi Heitkamp

Heidi Heitkamp was the first North Dakota woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from 2013 to 2019. She will be presented with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.

Heidi Heitkamp

Mary Kathryn (Heidi) Heitkamp grew up in a large family in Mantador, N.D. She graduated from UND in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, double-majoring in history and political science. She then earned a J.D. degree from Lewis and Clark College in 1980. That same year she began her long career in public service by taking a position with the Environmental Protection Agency.

From 1981 to 1986, Heitkamp was a director of the Dakota Gasification synfuels plant.

She was appointed State Tax Commissioner in 1986 and won election to that post in 1988. In 1992, she was elected Attorney General for North Dakota. After winning election to the U.S. Senate, Heitkamp quickly established a reputation for developing bipartisan support, especially for issues important to North Dakotans.

Throughout her career, Heitkamp has remained close to UND. She has regularly interacted in and out of the classroom with students in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, and in 2013 delivered the department’s annual Frank Wenstrom Lecture. In 2017 she worked with the University to host a conference on issues, policies and opportunities in the Arctic Circle.

Honorary degree recipients

Heidi Heitkamp

In addition to receiving an honorary Doctor of Letters degree, Heidi Heitkamp will present an address during the graduate commencement ceremonies.

Josh Duhamel

A dynamic and versatile actor, Josh Duhamel is one of Hollywood’s leading males. In 2017, Duhamel reprised his role as Lt. Colonel William Lennox in Transformers: The Last Knight. Duhamel made his directorial debut at the 2019 Mammoth Film Festival with The Buddy Games for which he also co-wrote, co-produced and starred in. Duhamel starred in USA Network’s scripted series “Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G” as Detective Greg Kading and starred as Jack Spier in the romantic comedy Love, Simon.  Next up for Duhamel will be his roles as James O’Connor in The Lost Husband and Sheldon Sampson in Jupiter’s Legacy.

Josh Duhamel

Duhamel starred opposite Julianne Hough in Lasse Hallstrom’s Safe Haven, a drama based on the best-selling novel by Nicholas Sparks and the thriller Scenic Route.  Other recent projects include George C. Wolfe’s drama, You’re Not You; Garry Marshall’s New Year’s Eve; and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third installment of the franchise. Additional film credits include the romantic comedy Life as We Know It, Ramona and Beezus, When in Rome, Lost in the Sun, Bravetown, Misconduct, Spaceman and The Romantics.

On television, Josh is known for his role as Danny McCoy on the NBC crime drama “Las Vegas.” Additionally, he lent his voice to Nickelodeon’s Emmy Award-winning animated series “Fanboy & Chum Chum” and starred in several seasons of the long-running ABC soap opera “All My Children,” in which he received three consecutive Daytime Emmy nominations.  Other recent television credits for Duhamel include CBS’ “Battle Creek” and the J.J. Abrams, Joseph Boccia and Athena Wickham’s Hulu mini-series, “11.22.63”

Duhamel is a native of Minot, N.D. He attended Minot State University and played quarterback for its football team. Duhamel has been an active ambassador for his native state in Hollywood. He has worn North Dakota and UND apparel in film roles and has appeared in publications and videos for the state’s Tourism Division. He regularly promotes UND athletics in social media. Duhamel served as honorary chairman for the Minot Area Community Foundation Recovery Fund. It was established in 2011 following the Souris River flooding that damaged more than 4,000 homes there.

Duhamel has received numerous nominations and honors through the years. He was the official pace car driver for the 2009 Indianapolis 500. In 2012 he was inducted into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame.

Clay Lacy

Clay Lacy is known throughout the world of aviation industry and education as a pilot, entrepreneur, innovator, record setter and benefactor.

Growing up in the farmland of Wichita, Kan., during the Great Depression, Lacy developed an early fascination with flight and piloted his first aircraft at the age of 12. By the age of 19 he had accumulated nearly 2,000 hours of flight time as both an instructor and ferry pilot. In January 1952 he joined United Airlines in Los Angeles. He would pilot planes from the Convair 340 and Douglas DC-3 through the Boeing 747-400 before retiring from United as No. 1 in seniority.

Clay Lacy

As a member of the California Air National Guard, Lacy served a year on active duty in 1961, flying the C-97 Stratofreighter on missions to Japan and Vietnam.

In 1964 Lacy flew the first Learjet into Van Nuys Airport. Four years later he founded Clay Lacy Aviation as the first jet charter company on the West Coast. Between flying for United Airlines and running his charter business, Lacy also found time to fly his P-51 Mustang in air races across the United States from 1964 to 1972.

In partnership with Continental Camera Systems, Lacy revolutionized air-to-air cinematography in the early 1970s with the development of Astrovision. Lacy filmed more than 3,000 projects for the military, feature films and television. He recorded most of the action-packed aerial sequences for the movie Top Gun (1986).

Lacy organized and flew several notable aviation projects, including the “Classroom in the Sky” and “Friendship One.” The latter, aboard a Boeing United 747SP, set a round-the-world speed record and also raised $530,000 for children’s charities.

Lacy has flown more than 300 aircraft types, logged more than 50,000 flight hours, and accumulated more hours flying turbine aircraft than any other pilot in the world. He holds 29 world speed records.

He has been an important supporter of UND and the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. As a member of the UND Aerospace Foundation Board, Lacy provided valuable financial direction and helped cultivate donors. Through his company, Clay Lacy Aviation, he provided jet transportation to bring prospective benefactors to UND, including Si and Betty Robin, principal donors for Robin Hall. Lacy has helped facilitate over $12 million in contributions to the University.

Lacy has been inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame. He has been honored with the Pathfinder Award from the Seattle Museum of Flight and the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Live streaming

UND provides live video streams of the commencement ceremonies and Celebrate Achievement, the pre-commencement show presented before the Undergraduate Degree Ceremony. Video streams are available from the following sources:

If you would like to download a copy of the ceremony recordings, the following links will be available by May 15 on Vimeo: