University Letter

UND's faculty and staff newsletter

At Winter Commencement: a 1997 graduate walks the stage

When Mark Pfeifle graduated from UND in 1997, it wasn’t the typical commencement experience.

With historic floodwaters overtaking campus and much of Grand Forks that spring, Pfeifle elected to take his current grades and receive his diploma in the mail; he never crossed the stage.

From helping Grand Forks’s citizens recover from the devastation, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he carved a path as a communicator, strategist and advisor in some of the country’s highest offices.

Twenty-six years later, now a commencement speaker, Pfeifle got his chance.

“Sometimes that little extra gesture is significantly powerful in one person’s life,” Pfeifle wrote on LinkedIn, following his participation in UND’s 2023 Winter Commencement ceremonies.

In his post, Pfeifle clipped the moment when UND President Andy Armacost welcomed him to at last receive his diploma in-person, replete with announcement and applause from those at the 1 p.m. undergraduate ceremony on Friday, Dec. 15.

Pfeifle thanked Brooke Conlin, director of ceremonies and events, who came up with the idea of including one more graduate in the proceedings.

“Thank you, Brooke and President Armacost. Teaching me, once again, that giving back and making one person’s day is worth doing,” Pfeifle wrote. “Might we all find those little things and make them happen?”


Between the three ceremonies, close to 500 graduates participated. Thousands more watched live on YouTube and Facebook. The ceremonies are available to watch in full on UND’s YouTube channel.

Pfeifle’s full speech is available to read on the Grand Forks Herald website.

“Remember those who gave a hand along the journey,” Pfeifle said to UND’s newest graduates. “Say ‘yes’ to new skills and never stop learning. Expose yourself to ideas you don’t agree with. Learn from mistakes along the way and be ready for those moments where it all comes together.”