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UND PRESIDENT MARK KENNEDY: 'New Frontiers' at UND

UND president Mark Kennedy gives his inaugural address October 10, 2016. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
UND president Mark Kennedy joins in singing the "Alma Mater" at Kennedy's inauguration at the Chester Fritz Auditorium Monday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

Editor's note: The following is the text of UND President Mark Kennedy's inaugural address, which he delivered at the university Oct. 10. It has been lightly edited for length.

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GRAND FORKS—I am honored to be the 12th president of UND and to be accompanied in this role by UND's First Lady Debbie Kennedy.

We are thrilled with the reception we have received and very appreciative of the warm welcome. I am humbled to have been entrusted with this responsibility by the search committee and the State Board, and commit that I will provide my full energies to prove your decision a wise one.

I'm also honored to be the second President Kennedy to address this premier institution.

It was destiny that brought President John F. Kennedy to Grand Forks a half century ago. JFK's belief that the acquisition of skills must rest on a strong liberal arts base, his drive to open New Frontiers and his reaching out to unite diverse interests as one reflects the essence of the heritage of UND that must guide our actions today.

Let's explore the intersection of JFK and UND on these three attributes and how they must form our touchstone for charting our future.

▇ First, let's consider the power of fusing skills with liberal arts and international experiences.

In his address at UND in 1963, John Kennedy declared, "Today what is needed are skills. The uneducated man or woman is left behind." Yet Kennedy went on to say, referring to UND, "This school was not developed merely to give its graduates an economic advantage in the life struggle," but to graduate "educated men and women who can bear the burden of responsible citizenship."

Answering JFK's call requires our liberal arts core curriculum to continue to prepare our graduates to be informed citizens with the ability to think critically, work in diverse teams and communicate fluently. We must pair expertise in a field of study with the skills needed for not just the next job, but a lifetime of challenges, some of those unimaginable to us.

Being a university president was unimaginable to me as a first-generation college graduate, but here I am. How glad I have been, especially now, that the distribution requirements at St. John's University compelled me to take classes in English, history, philosophy, political science, psychology, comparative religions, math and science; to read William Faulkner, George Eliot and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. How happy I am to have had the chance to tour with St. John's Men's Chorus including here to North Dakota, to play trombone in the pep band, to participate in intramural basketball and volleyball, to be a member of the Student Senate.

But today's globalized world demands we also instill a global perspective. JFK understood this. His degree emphasis in his government studies was in international relations, and he traveled to Columbia, Ecuador and Peru during his college years.

My parents scrimped and saved every penny so that they could give each of their seven children $500 a year for four years—not five; four—to become first generation college graduates. But my mother also found $500 to support a study abroad trip.

Even though she had never been outside the upper Midwest, it was impossible for her to consider a liberal arts education in the 1970s as not including a studying abroad. This is even harder to imagine today.

Our alums understood this. We would not be sitting in the Chester Fritz Auditorium had he not been amongst the first Americans to travel to inland China and to trade with that nation.

Heck, even my first grandchild understands this. Nicholas was born and lives in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

When Debbie and I studied in Delft, one of our Dutch friends brought us flowers on Thanksgiving saying, "we don't understand your holiday, but here in the Netherlands, we give flowers for special occasions." The mind-stretching impact of international study that immerses you in a culture unlike your own, making you feel like the outsider, makes you more welcoming to people and ideas that are different.

These life-changing experiences give students a broader perspective that leads to a richer, fuller life and makes them more attractive to employers.

With barely 1 percent of our graduates studying abroad today, we must ignite a new understanding that to be prepared for today's global world, international study should be the norm, not the exception.

▇ Second, let us consider our dedication to opening new frontiers.

JFK's vision of a New Frontier, which was the theme of his administration, also felt at home at UND. For we have always charted new territory.

While most flagship universities take the name of their state, this university—founded in what was then frontier, six years before statehood—was as State Board Chairman Kathy Neset said, the first expression of the name North Dakota. And we gave our name to the state.

The university established a motto as Professor Dana Michael Harsell said as Lux et Lex—light and law. We devoted ourselves to shining the light of discovery on new avenues and defining the rules of these new roads.

Our new frontiers included opening new opportunities for a wider circle of society.

Six of our first eight graduates in 1889 were women. It would not be until 1977—14 years after JFK spoke here—that his alma mater, Harvard, first accepted woman.

Our alums have been at the forefront in promoting racial harmony.

Ronald Davies, as a federal judge, ordered the desegregation of the previously all-white Little Rock Central High. Era Bell Thompson, as editor of Ebony magazine for four decades, shone a steady light of understanding on how to achieve harmonious racial and gender relations.

Phil Jackson applied his understanding of Zen and American Indian religious practices that he gained here at UND to motivate Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman to play as a team for the Chicago Bulls and Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant to play well together for the Lakers, winning more NBA championship than anyone else in the process.

Our alums explored new frontiers on this planet.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson's exploration of the Arctic was recognized by the U.S. Post Office, which issued a stamp honoring his achievements.

Carl Ben Eielson was the first to fly over the North Pole. Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska is named in his honor.

Matt Dunlevy founded Skyscopes to explore new commercial UAS applications today.

UND alums explored new frontiers beyond planet earth, helping to achieve JFK's vision to land a man on the moon.

John Disher was a leading NASA manager from the original Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions right through to the Space Lab.

Astronaut Karen Nyberg spent 180 days in space.

Today, UND Associate Professor Pablo de León and his team are crafting spacesuits that offer more mobility to future astronauts who'll walk and work on Mars.

I could go on, but you get my point. Advancing to new frontiers has always been at the very heart of the UND experience. President John F. Kennedy knew this; I know it as well.

As a school devoted to Lux et Lex, shining light on new discoveries, being just state of the art is not enough. Never has it been more urgent to be pushing forward. The rapid spread of digital technologies has hurled economic tsunamis at one industry after another. It is now washing over academia. Digitization today provides the citizens of North Dakota the opportunity to earn an Ivy League degree without leaving their hometown.

Growing up, my family always spiffed up when we had company. UND now has lots of high-quality company. We need to up our game to ride the digitization wave.

Thankfully, our spirit of discovery burns bright throughout the campus, particularly in three areas that offer promising prospects for our graduates, our state, our nation, indeed the world.

In energy, our research into enhanced oil recovery transformed the economic prospects of our state and put America on a path to energy independence. Our groundbreaking research into carbon management charts a path to tapping the abundant energy of this state while at the same time taking concrete action in addressing climate concerns.

In medicine, we not only provide most of the state's physicians, we have trained eight of every 10 Native American nurses in the state and one in five of the Native American physicians in the nation. We are one of the nation's premier centers for the study of drug addiction and diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Thanks to John D. Odegard's embrace of UND's innovative spirit, UND is the leading university in providing instruction in aviation. We're also at the heart of making this university, this region, this state, the Silicon Valley of drones, according to the New York Times.

As the Energy U, Medical U and Unmanned U, we will continue to serve as the chief opportunity engine for this state and its citizens.

▇ Third, let's consider the power of unity.

John F. Kennedy understood that the secret to success was pulling people together as one. That is why he called on each of us to ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country.

On Nov. 22, 1963, 58 days after he spoke at UND, I recall watching coverage on the small black-and-white TV in our family home in Pequot Lakes. I was six. What I remembered must was the flashes of coverage from around the world as people came out to the streets in grief for a leader they considered their own, a leader that they loved. John F. Kennedy united not just the United States but the world.

Our alums also have modeled how finding the common ground with others of diverse views and backgrounds is the path to success. Stefansson could not have explored the Arctic without the aid of his Inuk guide, Natkusiak. We would not be in the Chester Fritz Auditorium had Fritz not known how to deftly engage the Chinese.

Phil Jackson would not have won so many championships without effectively partnering with the best African American talent the game has ever known.

Stefansson, Fritz and Jackson respected those they encountered and worked with them to achieve mutual benefit. We must do the same, and we must instill that understanding in our graduates.

My belief is that as one UND, one North Dakota, we can surf the digitization wave. Fragmented, we are diminished and at risk of being washed up by the heavy tides.

With the strong support of our alumni, our political leaders and the citizens of North Dakota, we must knit faculty, staff and administration tightly together toward delivering education that prepares our students for a lifetime of success, research and creative activity that propels our state and nation forward, and service that honors our shared destiny.

Interdisciplinary teaching and research must be our hallmark at UND. We must seek every opportunity to leverage the talents of our premier land-grant sister institution, North Dakota State University, and other schools in the state to capture opportunities as One UND.

As you listened to the choir perform "Jericho" today, you heard all the different parts such as tenor, bass and soprano working together in harmony. And in the opening "America," you heard both the choir and the band working together.

It's like North Dakota's various institutions all having to keep the harmony within their own organizations, while also collaborating together.

That is the great challenge that we have, and our Music Department once again shows us the way.

My reason for being so optimistic is that I believe UND's commitment to fusing skills with a liberal arts understanding, our spirit of advancing new frontiers, and our coming together as One UND is not just the foundation for our past success, but also our path to greatness. UND is a premier flagship university with a proud history—and an even brighter future.

John F. Kennedy concluded his address here 53 years ago by telling the story of French Marshal Lyautey asking his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected, saying it would take a century for the tree to reach full fruition. To which, Marshal Lyautey replied, "In that case, we have no time to lose. Plant it this afternoon."

We may be a century away from truly achieving our vision of North Dakotans fully equipped with the skills they need for the future to be informed citizens. But we have no time to lose. Let us plant our tree this afternoon. Thank you.

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