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More than 1,700 to graduate, UND benefactor Werner Nistler to be given honorary degree at UND commencement

The University of North Dakota will honor entrepreneur and UND benefactor Werner Nistler and recognize the University’s two newest Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors at the UND commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 13.

North Dakota Poet Laureate Denise Lajimodiere will give the main address for both the graduate degree ceremony at 9 a.m. and the undergraduate degrees ceremony at 2 p.m. at the Alerus Center, just south of the UND campus. The events will be available both as a livestream and on demand.

UND President Andrew Armacost will preside.

More than 600 graduate students and 1100 undergraduates are eligible to cross the stage and receive their degrees.

Also at Commencement, Nistler will be awarded an honorary degree. In the morning, the graduate degrees commencement will include the presentation of two new Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors, UND’s highest academic honor.

The School of Law and School of Medicine & Health Sciences will hold commencement ceremonies at Chester Fritz Auditorium on Saturday, May 6, at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., respectively.

About Denise Lajimodiere

Denise Lajimodiere (pronounced “Lah-jim-o-deer”) is an award-winning poet, artist and retired educator of 44 years, as well as a three-time graduate of the University of North Dakota.

A citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in Belcourt, N.D., Lajimodiere was appointed North Dakota’s newest poet laureate by state lawmakers on April 5. With the appointment, she became the state’s first Native American poet laureate, succeeding Larry Woiwode, a native of Carrington, N.D., who passed away last year after holding the poet laureate title for three decades.

At UND, Lajimodiere studied educational leadership, earning her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Through her career in education, she served as an elementary school teacher in New Town, N.D., and as an instructor and eventually principal in Belcourt. In 2006, Lajimodiere became an assistant professor of educational leadership at North Dakota State University, where she worked until her retirement.

Lajimodiere’s poetry has been published in four books, “Thunderbird,” “Dragonfly Dance,” “Bitter Tears,” and “His Feathers Were Chains.” And as a nationally recognized expert in American Indian boarding schools, Lajimodiere wrote “Stringing Rosaries: The History, the Unforgivable, and the Healing of North American Indian Boarding School Survivors,” which chronicles the atrocities experienced by survivors.

She also published a children’s book, “Josie Dances,” which follows the story of a young fancy shawl dancer at the Labor Day Pow Wow in Belcourt.

As North Dakota’s first Native American poet laureate, and one of only a handful of poets to have served in the post since it was established in 1957, Lajimodiere hopes she can be a mentor and role model, putting on poetry workshops and readings for young writers from underrepresented communities in North Dakota.

She is one of the founders and past presidents of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, formed to increase public awareness and cultivate healing for the trauma experienced by American Indian and Alaska Native Nations as a result of the U.S. Boarding School era, which lasted from the 1800s until the 1970s.

About Werner Nistler

Werner Nistler, founder and chairman of Touchmark, is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and 1968 graduate of the University of North Dakota.

Born and raised on a farm near Golva, N.D., Nistler credits his farming experience and upbringing for the work ethic and skillset he has used to be successful in business. While at UND, he worked full-time at Smith Hall cafeteria, eventually becoming student manager, a position he held until graduation.

After earning a Bachelor of Science in Accountancy from UND in 1968, Nistler went on to earn a master’s degree from Arizona State University. He honed his business acumen as a Certified Public Accountant in Portland, Ore.

In 1980, Nistler founded Touchmark, a company specializing in developing and operating community retirement homes. He served as the company’s CEO for 35 years and now serves as its chairman. His wife, Colleen, is vice chairperson of the company, which owns 14 full-service senior living communities in 10 states, including North Dakota and one Canadian province.

In recognition of the Nistlers’ continued support of education in North Dakota, the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education voted to name the UND College of Business & Public Administration after the couple, who financially supported the construction of the building that would eventually be named Nistler Hall.

Nistler was inducted into the UND Accounting Hall of Fame in 2017 and received a Sioux Award from the UND Alumni Association & Foundation in 2020, recognizing his achievements in business and service to others. He is also the 2018 winner of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the Pacific Northwest Region.

About the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors

UND will recognize two new Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors: Steven Light, professor of Political Science & Public Administration, and Kathryn Rand, Floyd B. Sperry Professor of Law.

The professorship, UND’s highest academic honor, is bestowed upon professors who have made significant achievements in research, teaching and service, as well as have acclaim or national recognition for their work.

It was established with an endowment gift from the late UND benefactor Chester Fritz (1892-1983). Each year, revenue from the endowment provides cash stipends to one or more full-time UND faculty members, who thereafter may use the title Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor.

Steven Light and Kathryn Rand

Steven Light, professor of Political Science & Public Administration, and Kathryn Rand, Floyd B. Sperry Professor of Law, are the co-founders and co-directors of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gaming Law & Policy at UND. Both joined the UND faculty in 2000.

Light and Rand are widely regarded as among the nation’s leading experts on Indian gaming, having published dozens of articles on the topic. Their work has examined how and why tribally owned casinos came to be and helped explain how the casinos have remade the legal, political and regulatory landscape for gaming and socioeconomic development across the U.S.

In 2022, Light and Rand were Inaugural Visiting Professors in the Indian Nations Gaming & Governance Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where they also were Senior Distinguished Fellows in Tribal Gaming at the International Center for Gaming Regulation. Their books — considered standards in the field — include “Indian Gaming & Tribal Sovereignty: The Casino Compromise,” which was featured on C-SPAN’s Book TV. Light also authored “The Law Is Good,” a book on voting rights, race and representation.

Light’s extensive leadership portfolio includes serving as interim dean of UND’s Nistler College of Business & Public Administration (2017-18) and the College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines (2013-14). He also was associate vice president for Academic Affairs (2011-17) and associate provost for Undergraduate Education (2010-11). In these roles, he helped with myriad strategic initiatives to advance UND’s education, research and outreach mission.

Rand served as dean of the UND School of Law from 2009 to 2018 and was the first woman to hold that position. She is a frequent media commentator for news outlets such as the New York Times and Boston Globe, and she’s also delivered invited lectures at Boston College, University of Manitoba, University of Helsinki, University of Macau and numerous law schools. An elected member of the American Law Institute, Rand has testified twice on Indian gaming regulation and oversight before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in Washington, as well as before the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.

Both Light and Rand have previously been awarded the UND Foundation/McDermott Award for Excellence in Teaching, Research or Creative Activity, and Service.