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Mark Kennedy: Bringing many together as 'One UND'

Thomas Jefferson chose not to list being congressman, governor or president on his gravestone. He instead chose to be known as father of the University of Virginia. The only inscription Jefferson's committee decided to include on the Great Seal of the United States was not liberty or freedom, but "e pluribus unum," meaning "out of many, one." Perhaps Jefferson's decision to elevate a university on his epitaph reflected his belief in the power of universities to engender the understanding that our nation's glory is not revealed in our divisions, but in our coming together.

Just a couple days after the ugly events that occurred in Jefferson's hometown of Charlottesville, I boarded a bus for a tour of North Dakota with our newest UND faculty members. This 27-year tradition allows us to show our recently added colleagues the beauty and economic vibrancy of our state that so often goes underappreciated. I couldn't help but think how much this experience contradicted the abhorrent ideologies that preoccupied the world only days before. Among my fellow travelers was a mechanical engineer from Iran and of dietetics from Iraq, a researcher of energy from India and of public health from China, a rabbi from New York, and a few lifelong North Dakotans. Together, we enjoyed three days of shared experiences and collegial bonding across our great state. At each stop this diverse group was welcomed with open arms by those who have made this state's people synonymous with warm hospitality.

The members of our bus tour are a reflection of the community that we strive to nurture at the University of North Dakota. As you read this, students from not only North Dakota, but all states of this nation and all corners of the world are filing into our classrooms for the first days of fall classes. They are a reflection of the growing diversity that each of them will encounter as they enter the workforce. I believe that it is our duty, as the flagship university of this state, to prepare those whom we educate to appreciate and embrace the power of diversity, of e pluribus unum. That is why diversity and inclusion were enshrined as core values in our Strategic Plan. 

The westernmost stop of our faculty bus tour took us to the top of the River Bend Overlook in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I gazed upon the pristine view of the Little Missouri River with individuals from many races and creeds who are now my colleagues at UND. Having returned to campus, a quote by the namesake to that treasured national park defines our call to action: "To sit home, read one's favorite paper, and scoff at the misdeeds of the men who do things is easy," said Roosevelt, "but it is markedly ineffective. It is what evil men count upon the good men's doing." In the year ahead, may everyone at the University of North Dakota heed the admonition of Roosevelt and affirm Jefferson's decision to elevate the power of universities to profoundly and positively benefit the world by bringing the many together as one, One UND.

Mark Kennedy is president of the University of North Dakota.

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