Summer commencement: ‘Hats off to you, class of 2020!’

‘You’ve risen to the challenge. Congratulations!’ said UND President Armacost in his first commencement address

Editor’s note: Nearly 500 candidates graduated on Aug. 7 in UND’s second virtual ceremony.
The number of graduates was similar to past summer commencements, and undergraduate and graduate students were nearly equal.
UND President Andy Armacost delivered the commencement address, which was followed by the conferral of degrees. The name of each graduate was read and accompanied by a slide with the graduate’s name, degree, and photo. The graduates will receive their diplomas by mail, along with a “Hawks Pack” that includes a diploma folder, program, and other mementos.
President Armacost’s address to the graduates is below.

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Hi, I’m Andy Armacost, President of the University of North Dakota. Welcome to our Summer Virtual Commencement Ceremony.  This ceremony honors our graduates who are receiving their doctoral, master’s and undergraduate degrees.

Like many of you, this is my first UND Commencement Ceremony. As your new president, I am excited to be here to celebrate your accomplishments. I wish I could do this in person. I would shake your hand, pat you on the back and toss my hat in the air to acknowledge your degrees. Watching this ceremony in the virtual world is different. It may not be the way you expected to graduate. However, it still is an important day. It’s a day we feel pride for you and your family.

You have worked hard to earn a degree. You were supported by faculty, staff and fellow students. Your family members encouraged you and gave you the tools you needed to make it this far. Today is your day to celebrate with all the people who helped you achieve this milestone. Find time today to thank those special people for being part of your journey.

Andy Armacost, president of UND, delivers the Summer Commencement address to the Class of 2020. YouTube screenshot.

It is an honor for me to address you today in my first commencement as president of the University. I know that you are a resilient, tough and tenacious lot because, for many of you, I am the fifth president you’ve had during your time at UND!

What speaks volumes about your class isn’t that you’ve simply coped with the COVIDS-19 pandemic, but that you’ve adapted, sacrificed, fought through, and persevered in these difficult times. You’ve risen to the challenge and made it to this day when family and friends can be proud to celebrate of one of the most significant accomplishments of your life. Congratulations!

These are not the circumstances under which any of us would have chosen to bestow your degrees, honor your achievements and recognize all you’ve done at and for UND. As American author Jack London once observed, “Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.”

A UND online student, living and working in Olympia, Washington, Laura Christian traveled to Denmark, Sweden and Norway through the University to explore Viking history. Photo courtesy of Laura Christian.

Among today’s graduates is a UND student who found herself in the position of having to reassess her life. A single mother with two boys from Olympia, Washington, Laura Christian found her path forward when she discovered the online courses offered at UND.

Laura didn’t know her interest in Norwegian – the language of her ancestors – would enable her to study abroad in Denmark, Sweden and Norway through the American Institute of Foreign Study. This, of course, was before the coronavirus outbreak. She was also able to pursue her interest in communication through UND’s distance education program.

Today, Laura is graduating with degrees in Norwegian and strategic communication with intercultural specialization. She credits her online UND instructors with keeping her interested and teaching her from afar, using the latest internet technology. Thankfully, building a strong infrastructure for distance education has benefitted all our UND graduates participating in today’s virtual commencement.

When recognized earlier this year as one of UND’s student Leaders in Action, Laura said: “This is the highlight of my life right now. It would have been impossible if it wasn’t for UND.”

During the past few months in Grand Forks, I’ve been able to observe what makes UND and the greater Grand Forks community so special. For example, our University reached out to more than 9,700 students during the COVID pandemic, just to say “Hello,” find out how they’re doing and answer their questions. This enormous effort tells me just how much UND really cares about its students.

The first day my wife Kathy and I spent on campus, UND alum Brandon Bochenski was sworn in as Grand Forks’ new mayor. He traveled the world and lived in many large cities during the hockey career he launched at the University in 2001. He could have lived almost anywhere, but he and his wife decided to come back to North Dakota to raise their family. He also wanted to finish the degree he started at UND.

UND graduate Brandon Bochenski, Grand Forks’ new mayor, and junior Michelle Nguyen attended classes together at UND’s Nistler College of Business & Public Administration. She managed his successful mayoral campaign, and he completed the bachelor’s degree he started in 2001 as a star hockey player at the University. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

While taking classes at the Nistler College of Business, Brandon met economics and political science student Michelle Nguyen, who agreed to manage his campaign for mayor. For the second time in her young life, Michelle ran a successful campaign that resulted in her candidate being elected to public office.

We say that UND produces leaders, and certainly Michelle and Brandon are excellent examples of this. But there’s more to the story than meets the eye. They both came from disadvantaged homes and neither would have completed their degrees without the scholarships they earned through hard work and perseverance.

The more I learn about UND history, the more I understand how our University’s graduates have been leaders and difference-makers. In 1957, it was U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Davies – a UND alum – issuing his historic order to desegregate schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. During the 1960s, a UND mechanical engineering graduate John Disher, played a major role in fulfilling President John F. Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon. More recently, former UND hockey players Jocelyn Lamoureux Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando – both Olympic gold medalists – were named the recipients of the Theodore Roosevelt Roughrider Award by Governor Doug Burgum.

My hope is that you’ll view the degree you’ve earned today as the beginning of a lifelong learning experience. No matter where you go or what you do, your UND education provides you with a solid base on which to build your career, your relationships – your future. How you play the hand you’ve been dealt is up to you. But if you continue to learn from your experiences, to educate yourself and stay well-informed, then there are no practical limits to what you can achieve.

Congratulations again on reaching this milestone in your life’s journey. Hats off to you, class of 2020!