UND Summer Commencement 2021: ‘Every day is a blessing’

UND holds first in-person commencement in 21 months; Mike Jacobs, Marilyn Hagerty and Hunter Pinke honored

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

President Andy Armacost presided over his first general commencement ceremonies on Friday, Aug. 6, with nearly 500 graduates crossing the stage.

The event was UND’s first live general commencement since December 2019. Commencement ceremonies were moved online with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The graduate degree ceremony was held on Friday morning at the Chester Fritz Auditorium, followed by a reception at the new Gershman Graduate Center.

The undergraduate ceremony was held on Friday afternoon, also at the Auditorium with a reception at the Gorecki Alumni Center. Both receptions were hosted by the UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Mike Jacobs, retired publisher and editor of the Grand Forks Herald, delivered the commencement address at both ceremonies. The text of his address is below.

Marilyn Hagerty, Grand Forks Herald columnist and reporter, received a Doctor of Letters honorary degree at the afternoon ceremony; and in a special award, UND athlete Hunter Pinke received a President’s Medal from Armacost.

Hunter Pinke (center) received both his UND diploma and a President’s Medal from UND President Andy Armacost (right) at UND’s 2021 Summer Commencement ceremony. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Highest honor

“The President’s Medal is the highest honor that the president of the University can confer,” Armacost noted.

“Today, I am proud to present this important medal – my first as UND’s president – to recent graduate, Hunter Pinke.”

Hunter has “distinguished himself through courage, tenacity, teamwork, and hope as he completed his degree at the University of North Dakota,” Armacost continued.

“Hunter played football for UND and suffered a major spinal cord injury in a skiing accident in December of 2019. Throughout the next 18 months, and with a sense of hope and purpose, Hunter committed himself to his recovery, a return to the classroom, continuing leadership on the football team, and widespread support to our campus and our community.

“His injury changed his life, but has not changed his optimistic approach to living,” Armacost noted. “Hunter’s philosophy has guided his recovery and inspired his family, teammates and friends. … He has certainly inspired each of us through his commitment to the ideals of this University.”

After accepting the award, Pinke spoke to the Commencement audience. “You know, I met Dr. Armacost probably differently than many of you did,” Pinke said.

“I met him in the hospital. It was just days after my skiing accident, and Dr. Armacost had just been named president of the university.

“And without knowing who I was — I don’t think he’d even moved to Grand Forks yet — he came and visited me in the hospital in in Denver,” Pinke said.

Because “I was one of his now. I was a UND guy, and he came and supported me. And so, Dr. Armacost, thank you again for that.”

‘I will always bleed Kelly green’

Pinke continued. “I hope people see more than the wheelchair when they see my story,” he said.

“I hope they see a state that took me under its wing and supported me. I hope they see a community that took the next step for me when I physically could not take any more.

“I hope they see a university that allowed me to grow into a young man. I hope they see the joy of living, because every day is a blessing.

“I hope they see the pride that I took representing this University. Wearing North Dakota across my chest and representing my home state is as one of my greatest honors, and I will continue to take great pride in representing my hometown, this state, this region and most of all, this University.”

Next year, Pinke will be attending the University of Arizona to study architecture and compete in adaptive track and field. “But even though I’ll be wearing blue and red down in Tucson, there’s one thing that will always remain the same. And that is that I always bleed Kelly green,” he said.

“So again, thank you very much, and God bless.”

UND conferred some 218 graduate and 257 undergraduate degrees. In addition, all 2020 and spring 2021 graduates were invited back to campus to participate in the in-person ceremonies. They graduated online during the pandemic.

Mike Jacobs, former publisher and editor of the Grand Forks Herald, served as graduation speaker at UND’s 2021 Summer Commencement. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Mike Jacobs’ graduation address

EDITOR’S NOTE: Following is the UND summer graduation address given Friday, Aug. 6, by Mike Jacobs, former publisher and editor of the Grand Forks Herald. In his speech, Jacobs speaks not only to UND’s latest graduates but also longtime Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty, who received an honorary doctorate. 

President Armacost, platform guests, graduates, and you, Doctor Marilyn Hagerty!

You have accomplished a lot, Marilyn, and you are being honored appropriately today. This is an honorary doctorate of letters, and you earned it. How many letters have you written, Marilyn? How many columns? How many feature stories? How many recipe tips and restaurant reviews? You’ve gone viral, Marilyn! You’ve become a journalistic icon. You have been feted by some of New York’s leading chefs. You’ve been on national cooking shows. You have been profiled in the New York Times.

But there is one thing you haven’t done, Marilyn, and I am going to ask you again today. Name me, Mike Jacobs, that’s me, cheerful person of the week. How many cheerful persons have there been Marilyn? Hundreds, surely. Perhaps more than 1,000. But never Mike Jacobs. You can change that Marilyn, with a few clicks of your keyboard.

Grand Forks Herald columnist Marilyn Hagerty received an honorary doctorate from UND President Andy Armacost at UND’s 2021 Summer Commencement. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Now Marilyn, I know that you are a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth. Your generation produced women of poise and pride, who are not given to outbursts nor susceptible to flattery. This asking you for a favor is a little like asking the queen for a hug, but I’m going to do it anyway. C’mon Marilyn! I want to be cheerful person of the week!

Frankly I think I deserve the designation because this day makes me genuinely cheerful. I’m proud to be part of this celebration of your achievement. And I’m happy to be making a graduation speech. It shows that after all these years, someone thinks I might have something to say.

Graduates, you may expect an upbeat oration. That would be the norm for graduation speeches. But the mood of our times is not upbeat. Far from it. It would be dishonest to say that things are going well when we have driven here through drought, heat and smoke. America is in trouble. Planet Earth is in trouble. We’re facing a crisis.

Crisis brings opportunity

I have chosen the word deliberately. Crisis implies a state of chaos and uncertainty, a time when definite change must occur. In medicine, the word is used to suggest the moment when a patient begins to recover or continues to decline. Philosophically, it implies a time of chaos and confusion, with an uncertain outcome.

The outcome of any crisis is not pre-determined. Instead, crisis brings opportunity. Human history is full of examples of crisis. Much of the summer I have been reading a history of Victorian England by a journalist and scholar named Stephen Heffer. The book is called “High Minds.” It runs to 817 pages of text and another 40 or so of notes and acknowledgments. The type is small and the prose is dense, but Heffer’s book is insightful in many ways.

Let me give an example: the London sewer system. As London grew in the 19th century, human waste accumulated. The city stank. Disease was rampant. Pessimistic Londoners worried that their city would become uninhabitable. Thousands of people died in a succession of epidemics. There were long arguments about what to do. The solution came when Joseph Bazelgette engineered and built 1,300 miles of sewers. Thirteen hundred miles – the distance from here to Houston.

Water from the Thames River was diverted into the system and human waste was swept to the sea. It’s not an approach we’d endorse today, but it got rid of the sewage. When the sewage and stench disappeared from the city, so did cholera. There hasn’t been a significant outbreak of cholera in London in almost 200 years.

Such opportunities lie ahead. The way to grasp opportunity is to investigate, evaluate and initiate. North Dakota’s universities are involved in important work that will help meet the climate crisis. UND is a leader in carbon capture research and NDSU in food research, including genetic engineering. Both are controversial. Both need investigation and evaluation across academic disciplines to determine the promise and the pitfalls. Certainly, these two issues will be of central importance as we humans work our way out of our current crisis, which extends to human health and the health of our democracy.

Our damaged planet needs us.

Our divided political system needs us.

There is so much to do, so much to explore.

Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Let’s go exploring

I’m a journalist, so as I prepared this talk, I looked to the newspaper for inspiration. Specifically, I turned to the funny pages. One of my proudest possessions is an original panel from a comic strip by Bill Watterson called “Calvin and Hobbes.” I got it because I was among the first newspaper editors in America to sign up for the comic, which involves a boy named Calvin and a tiger named Hobbes. The panel hangs above the dresser where I keep my socks and underwear, so I see it every day, and every day it makes me smile.

It’s dated Dec. 31, 1995, and it has a new year’s theme.

I had hoped to show it to you, but that didn’t work out, so instead I’ll describe the cartoon. The boy and the tiger emerge to exclaim, “Wow! It really snowed last night! Isn’t it wonderful? Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand new! It’s like having a fresh piece of paper to draw on! A day full of possibilities. It’s a wonderful world, Hobbes ol’ buddy. Let’s go exploring.”

Here’s another thought, this one from John Gunther, who wrote a book called “Inside USA” published in 1949. “There is no valid reason,” Gunther wrote, “why the American people cannot work out an evolution in which freedom and security are combined. In a curious way it is earlier, not later, than we think. The fact that a third of the nation is ill-housed and ill-fed is, in simple fact, not so much dishonor as a challenge. What Americans have to do is enlarge the dimension of the democratic process. This country is, I once heard it put, absolutely lousy with greatness – not only the greatest responsibilities but with the greatest opportunities ever known to man.”

Your charge, graduates, is to go exploring. Investigate. Evaluate. Initiate.

Remember where you came from and imagine what you can do to repay the opportunities that UND has provided for you. Here’s our example: Suezette and I owned a ranch in Mountrail County. We loved the place. We spent many weekends there. But the distance kept getting greater and taking care of the place took greater effort, so we turned it into research fellowships for undergraduate students.

We did not give it away. We turned it into something. I confess that we are indecently proud. We smile about it every day.

Soon after we were married 50 years ago, Earl Strinden came to Dickinson, where I was beginning my newspaper career. Strinden was director of UND’s alumni association and a political figure of consequence in the state. He invited us to an alumni gathering. Why us, I asked. I had given the university administration quite a bit of trouble in my time on campus. Earl smiled and said, “We never know who’s going to turn out. “

We gave him $15.

Your turn will come.

Now graduates, I am going to sit down and you are going to go exploring – not just exploring but finding opportunities and building the future.

Marilyn! Savor this moment. Thank you for all you’ve done for Grand Forks and for all the people you’ve inspired.

And thank you in advance for naming me cheerful person of the week.

Good luck to you, graduates! And heartiest congratulations!