Wynne: ‘Your degree is a starting point’

Interim President addresses hundreds of new UND grads at three ceremonies

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

More than 900 new graduates crossed the stage in three Winter Commencement ceremonies at UND in December. A total of 662 undergraduate students were eligible for commencement, along with 236 graduate students, one M.D. student and 11 law students. Seventeen students who’d earned their degrees earlier or will earn them soon also were present to be handed their diplomas.

The ceremonies were streamed live so that families and friends could participate, even if they could not attend in person.

With this feature, UND Today presents a selection of photos from the event, as well as the text of Interim President Joshua Wynne’s commencement address. The events were the first commencement ceremonies at which President Wynne officiated.

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The following is President Wynne’s address.

Thank you all for being here today to celebrate and honor our newest class of University of North Dakota graduates, as well as those who have earned advanced degrees from the University.

I am honored to have led UND — your university — as interim president for the past six months. One of my primary goals during this time has been to maintain the momentum established with our One UND Strategic Plan. I am very pleased to say that our students, our alumni, our faculty and our staff have embraced the idea of moving UND forward while striving for excellence. When the time comes for me to pass the torch to UND’s next president, Andrew Armacost, I am confident that he will find UND well-positioned to address the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

As graduates of the University of North Dakota, we want you to be prepared for whatever the future brings. Of course, predicting the future is difficult, but you should know that your degree gives you an advantage — as long as you view it as a foundation on which to build.

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Here’s what I can tell you about the future. According to a 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, people change jobs an average of 12 times throughout their lives. The bureau also says most people spend slightly more than four years in a job. I’m going to pause a moment for everyone to appreciate the irony of me talking about changing jobs after a short period of time.

There’s a movie currently playing in the theaters called “Ford vs. Ferrari.” It takes place in the mid-1960s and is based on a true story. It’s about Ford Motor Company’s effort to beat Ferrari at Le Mans, the most famous auto race in the world. In one scene, Henry Ford II halts a production line at one of his company’s auto factories and tells the workers, “Hear that? That’s the sound of the Ford Motor Company going out of business.”

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Now, this may be Hollywood using creative license, but it serves as a good example of how tens of thousands of U.S. jobs — once considered safe and stable for a lifetime — no longer exist. Back then, at a time when the U.S. auto industry was booming, most of the people working those production lines probably couldn’t begin to imagine the changes that would cause their jobs start disappearing a decade later. This also had a ripple effect on many other jobs related to the American auto industry.

The key lesson here is that if there’s one constant in the world, it’s change. The jobs of today may not be here tomorrow. And the jobs of tomorrow may not require the same knowledge and skills as the jobs of the present.

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

But you have the great advantage of leaving UND with a degree. And contrary to popular but incorrect belief, research shows that having a bachelor’s degree gives you a clear economic advantage over someone with a high school diploma. Even considering the high cost of a college education — an issue we’re working hard to address at UND — there are studies showing that someone with a bachelor’s degree will earn significantly more annually than a person with a high school education. Those earning graduate and professional degrees have an even higher rate of return on their education investment, not to mention the smallest chance of ever being unemployed.

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

As further proof, an article in the Dec. 9 edition of the Wall Street Journal is entitled “College-educated workers are taking over the American factory floor,” and it detailed how manufacturing jobs that require the most problem-solving skills (such as industrial engineers) grew by 10 percent from 2012 and 2018, while those requiring the least shrank by 3 percent. The article went on to document that the percentage of manufacturing workers with a college degree doubled in the past two decades, and now constitutes more than 40 percent of all manufacturing jobs.

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

But the process of earning a degree through college education is not an end but a beginning. Your degree is a starting point that provides the educational foundation for lifelong learning. I hope you view it as an opportunity to build on your education as means of intentionally preparing yourself for the inevitable changes along your career path – because they will happen.

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

I cannot overstress the importance of lifelong learning even after you leave us today. It enables you to continuously upgrade your skills and your knowledge. Your UND degree represents your insurance policy for adapting to change in whatever career field you have chosen.

Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

In closing, I once again want to thank family, friends and colleagues for being here today to honor the University of North Dakota’s newest graduates and advanced degree recipients. And I want to thank everyone for their support and their words of encouragement. Let’s all pledge to continue the progress we’ve made as we move ahead to make your UND the premier flagship university on the Northern Plains. Thank you, and congratulations!

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.