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UND president implores grads to shoot for the stars

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President Mark Kennedy gives Jessica Fontes her diploma in Bachelor of Science in Nursing with Dean Gayle Roux from the College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines during Friday's Winter commencement at the Chester Fritz Auditorum. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 6
UND President Mark Kennedy shakes hands with Scott Lucas whom earned his degree in bachelor of Arts, Communication at Friday's Winter Commencement ceremonies at the Chester Fritz Auditorium.(Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)3 / 6
DeAnna Carlson Zink, Chief Executive Officer of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation takes a selfie with the graduating class during Friday's ceremonies. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)4 / 6
An Honor Medallion worn by students for the bachelor's whom are graduation with honors. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)5 / 6
Streamers fall over the graduation class of 2016 during the Winter commencement ceremonies at the Chester Fritz Auditorium on Friday. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)6 / 6

Though the “Star Wars” galaxy is far, far away, its themes found their way to Grand Forks during the UND winter commencement ceremonies Friday afternoon.

UND President Mark Kennedy used the film series as a backdrop for his very first commencement address in the Chester Fritz Auditorium since taking office last summer. Though he drew most of his material from the original film trilogy, Kennedy used the release of the latest movie for a quick punch line.

“Today is a very special day which has been long anticipated -- finally, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” hits movie theaters,” Kennedy said. “I’m honored to be here with you at today’s other special event, commencement, but I can’t wait to join my family tomorrow to watch the movie.”

By the end of Friday, Kennedy had presided over three ceremonies for a total of 920 graduates — 683 of them undergraduates.

The first ceremony of the winter commencement was Thursday and honored graduate and professional-degree recipients — a total of 237 graduates. Undergraduates walked the stage over the course of two afternoon ceremonies Friday.

The first undergraduate ceremony began at 1 p.m. and honored students in UND’s College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering and Mines, School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines. The latter ceremony began at 4 p.m. for students of the School of Aerospace Sciences, College of Business and Public Administration and the College of Education and Human Development.

Charting a course

Kennedy’s speech was light, but made serious points, drawing from the premise that the Star Wars story “provides wonderful insights that you would do well to heed as you chart your life course.”

Much of the speech came in the form of a list of essential steps for success illustrated by references to the film series and including such entries as building skills, taking risks and persevering in the face of adversity.

Kennedy intermingled the roster of Star Wars heroes and snippets of movie plot with the real-life heroics of UND alumni, such as astronaut Karen L. Nyberg, explorer and pilot Carl Ben Eielson and professional basketball coach Phil Jackson. He also touched on former UND students such as Chester Fritz who, despite not actually graduating from the university, accomplished great feats and tied themselves to the legacy of the school.

“The lessons of ‘Star Wars,’ and of UND’s alums is this; never lose hope of your ability to change the world,” Kennedy said. “We have done our best to impart to you an education, a foundation and an appreciation for diversity that you need to succeed. It is left to you though to take the risk, bounce back when you stumble, devote yourself to bigger causes and never, ever give up until you achieve your destiny.”

The next move

Many of the students in the audience at the earlier afternoon ceremony walked across the stage with a strong idea of what that destiny might be.

Casey Fugleberg, an honors biology major with a pre-health emphasis and an aspiring medical student, said he was excited to be finished with his undergraduate education.

“Hopefully, the future has some good things in store,” Fugleberg said, adding he’s waiting to hear back on his medical school applications within a month or two.

Kayla Chezick and Austin Albers, both graduates of UND’s criminal justice program, expressed plans to go on to attend a police academy and enter the field of law enforcement.

Chezick, who wore the UND medallion reserved for honors graduates, stood with her roommate from freshman year as she waited for family to join her after the ceremony ended.

“I’m excited, but not for student loans,” she said with a laugh. “I’m glad I didn’t trip.”

Albers expects to go to a police academy this summer and has immediate plans to work as a parole officer at a juvenile corrections center in Minnesota.

He also said he was nervous to walk the stage for his diploma but joked “the hard part is done with” after the ceremony.

“It hasn’t really sank in yet,” Albers said. “I’ll probably go out to dinner with my family and celebrate, spend some time together and wait for it to sink in.”

Communications major Scott Lucas wasn’t sure yet what he wanted to do with his degree and said he would hopefully “figure something out quick.”

Lucas was joined at the ceremony by his mother and brother and was looking forward to celebrating with them after leaving the Fritz. Even with the uncertainty of the future, he was in good spirits as he talked about completing his bachelor’s degree.

“It feels great,” Lucas said. “I finally graduated -- it’s awesome!”

Andrew Haffner

Andrew Haffner covers higher education and general assignment stories for the Grand Forks Herald. He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he studied journalism, political science and international studies. He previously worked at the Dickinson Press.

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