Celebration on the big stage

Finally — UND grads cap their academic careers in front of thousands of friends and loved ones at commencement ceremonies

More than 2,000 students were eligible to graduate this spring, creating the third-largest graduating class in UND history. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Serve others.
Don’t be afraid to fail.
Be nice.
And above all, honor your family and friends.

Those were just some of the words of wisdom speakers shared as graduates capped off their academic careers at general commencement ceremonies Saturday.

It was a day of celebration as students crossed the stage at the morning graduate and afternoon undergraduate ceremonies. More than 2,000 students were eligible to graduate, and commencements were also held Sunday for the School of Medicine & Health Sciences and last weekend for the School of Law. UND President Mark Kennedy presided at all ceremonies for the last time; he is set to leave UND June 15 to become president of the University of Colorado System.

General commencement speakers included Heather Wilson, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, and Heidi Heitkamp, former U.S. Senator, who also received an honorary doctorate. Actor and North Dakota native Josh Duhamel received an honorary degree, along with aviation pioneer Clay Lacy. Thomasine Heitkamp (Nursing) and Kent Lovelace (Aviation) were named Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors.

Former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp received an honorary degree during this year’s commencement proceedings. She served as the first female senator elected to office from North Dakota. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Celebrate accomplishments

“Celebrate all you’ve accomplished,” said Sen. Heitkamp, speaker at the morning event. “Take this amazing education, this amazing opportunity, and live your best life – an important and meaningful life.”

Heitkamp was the first female senator elected to office in North Dakota. She has served as State Tax Commissioner and Attorney General, and earned degrees in history and political science from UND.

“This is an incredible honor,” Heitkamp said about her honorary degree. “It’s no mystery that I love UND, and I will forever be grateful to continue to have a relationship with UND and see what it does for our great state.”

Heitkamp said she is defined by family.

“Family is always there, and you will find them the source and strength of your life, as well as your joy,” she said, adding that her parents believed in UND and education, and how proud she was to see her sister, Thomasine Heitkamp, be named a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor at the ceremony.

Heitkamp encouraged graduates to be curious, take big risks, and not be afraid to fail.

“I’ve failed many times,” she said. “If you fail, you will find a new door to opportunity. Make sacrifices for things that are more important than yourself. Act on behalf of everyone. If you put aside selfish differences, you will be unstoppable.”

Actor Josh Duhamel accepted his honorary degree on Saturday with an inspiring message for graduates, telling them they’re just beginning their paths. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Just the beginning

“Go after your dreams,” said Duhamel as he accepted his honorary doctorate at the afternoon ceremony. “You’re going to make mistakes, but you earned this degree. That’s what’s important, getting a degree from UND, one of the best universities in the country in one of the best states and the greatest country in the world. This is just the beginning.”

Duhamel, one of Hollywood’s leading males, is best known for his roles in the Transformers movie franchise and the television crime drama Las Vegas, among many other roles. A Minot native, Duhamel has been a tireless ambassador for North Dakota and UND.

“This is an incredible honor,” Duhamel said about his honorary degree. “I am very honored and flattered, and a little embarrassed. Thank you!”

Duhamel, who was a quarterback at Minot State University and holds a degree in biology from there, recalled leaving college.

“It was scary,” he said. “I wish I knew then what I know now. You’ve got this. This is just the beginning. Don’t be afraid. Stay curious, be innovative, do things that scare you. These are opportunities for growth. Don’t play it safe. You can do things you never possibly imagined.”

Clay Lacy has facilitated more than $12 million in contributions to UND. The aviation pioneer has logged more flight hours than anyone on Earth. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Aviation pioneer

Aviation pioneer Clay Lacy received an honorary degree for his support of UND and UND Aerospace. He piloted his first aircraft at age 12 and has logged 55,000 flight hours, more than any pilot in the world. A United Airlines pilot, he founded the first jet charter company on the west coast and has flown more than 300 aircraft types. He holds 29 world speed records. He has helped facilitate more than $12 million in contributions to the University.

Remember your wingmen

“Everyone needs a wingman,” said Heather Wilson, Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, as she addressed graduates in the afternoon ceremony.

“Think about those who had your back and encouraged and celebrated with you. Chances are they’re here today. They’ve taken this journey with you. Thank them.”

Wilson, who oversees a $138 billion budget, has more than 35 years of experience in the military and is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. With experience in both private and public sectors, she is a former Rhodes Scholar who visited Grand Forks last year to give a talk on UAS. She also announced Saturday that the Grand Forks Air Force Base will take leadership of the Global Hawk mission.

Wilson’s speech to graduates implored them to speak up, serve others and build relationships of trust. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Wilson spoke about UND collaboration, including the milestone of drones certified to fly beyond visual line of sight, as well as having UND-designed spacesuit fabric tested aboard the International Space Station.

“UND students and professors are collaborating with our military, small businesses and civilian leaders to put more muscle behind our punch,” she said. “Space is rapidly becoming a common domain for human endeavor, and . . . students and professors at UND are contributing.”

Today’s students are graduating with skills that are changing the world for the better, said Wilson.

She advised grads to make three choices.

“First, develop the ability to say, ‘That’s not good enough,’” Wilson said. “Develop good judgment. Your character will help you face your fears and speak up.”

Second, Wilson, said, serve others. She mentioned UND’s fourth president, Frank McVey, who established North Dakota Quarterly in 1911, which is still published today.

“His motto was to be a servant of the people,” Wilson said. “Ask yourself how you are going to make a difference. Use your gifts to build a better world.”

Wilson also cited legendary UND nursing professor Agnes Shurr, who was born in 1915 and served as a member of the U.S. Navy Nursing Corps in 1938. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, she was one of 13 nurses there who cared for injured soldiers. She later became a flight nurse, serving in Korea. When she returned to North Dakota in 1958, she started a nurse anesthetist program in Grand Forks before training nurses for the World Health Organization in Afghanistan in the 1960s. Upon her return, she became a longtime nursing faculty member at UND. She died at age 99 in Grand Forks.

“Nurses in the service often led dangerous lives,” Wilson said of Shurr. “She was a bright light of deep compassion who never stopped learning, never stopped teaching and never stopped giving. Live a life bigger than your own by choosing to serve others.”

Finally, Wilson advised graduates to develop relationships of trust.

“As you look back at your experience at UND, what will you remember? What made a difference?” Wilson asked. “What endures are the relationships, the people who were with us. Relationships of trust are more valuable then gold, and they last a lifetime. Keep building relationships of trust and you will have a rich tapestry of a life well lived.”