Sen. Kent Conrad speaks at UND spring graduation; alumni and graduates honored with degrees
UND's 123rd annual spring commencement ceremony on Saturday gave the university a chance to honor the achievements of nearly 1,000 graduating students while also recognizing its notable alumni, including former Rep. Earl Pomeroy and former studen...
UND's 123rd annual spring commencement ceremony on Saturday gave the university a chance to honor the achievements of nearly 1,000 graduating students while also recognizing its notable alumni, including former Rep. Earl Pomeroy and former student body president Adam Baker.
During his commencement address at the Alerus Center, Sen. Kent Conrad told the new graduates that the country is heading for a "fiscal crisis" as the nation's debt and deficits continue to grow. If the problem remains unchecked, he said, it will have a "real impact" on the future these graduates will face.
"If we don't change course, our debt will result in lower economic growth, fewer jobs and a lower standard of living for the American people," he said.
But Conrad said the students should be optimistic and embrace the "Yes we can" spirit as they begin the next phase of their lives. And he said lawmakers can deal with the fiscal crisis by "working together," something Conrad said he's done for months as he meets with a bipartisan group of senators who are developing a plan to slash the nation's deficits by $4 trillion over the next decade.
"We have made tremendous progress, and I am now hopeful that soon we will be able to announce an agreement," he said. "It is going to take a 'yes we can' attitude to get this job done because it's controversial, it's difficult and everyone is going to have to be asked to make a sacrifice."
Conrad said he ran with the slogan "Yes we can" during his first campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1986 -- a message he said he still believes, even as the country faces major challenges.
"I have confidence in you, the class of 2011," he said. "I believe the future is in good hands as we turn the leadership of our state and our nation over to you."
The commencement ceremony also honored former Rep. Pomeroy, who served as North Dakota's lone member of the U.S. House for 18 years until being defeated by Rick Berg last November.
Pomeroy was presented with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree Saturday after being nominated by faculty members to receive the distinction. Dennis Elbert, dean of the College of Business and Public Administration, said Pomeroy's 30-year career "exemplified the very best definition of public service."
Pomeroy earned bachelor's and law degrees from UND, served in the North Dakota Legislature and spent two terms as the state insurance commissioner before being elected to his first U.S. House term in 1992.
Elbert praised Pomeroy's "tireless" efforts to create better lives for North Dakotans and said he played a "pivotal" role in helping Grand Forks rebuild after the 1997 flood.
"Your long record of public service has distinguished you as one of the most influential graduates to come from this university," he said. "Yet, with your accessibility, graciousness and outgoing manner, we have never lost the sense that you really remained a true North Dakotan and native son."
Conrad said Pomeroy is an "honorable man" who was a key player in convincing Air Force leaders to keep Grand Forks Air Force Base open during a recent round of base closures. Pomeroy made a "heartfelt and determined" appeal for the base, he said, and also discussed how the nearby UND was making a positive difference in the lives of the men and women stationed there.
"I believe that is one of the most important accomplishments of our time in Washington because that base is important to Grand Forks, to our state and to our nation," Conrad said.
During the ceremony, UND officials also presented the parents, siblings and girlfriend of Baker with a posthumous master's degree in aviation that the late student leader had earned before his death.
President Robert Kelley said Baker was "instrumental" in building support for the Wellness Center, which is now one of the "showpieces" of campus.
Baker, who served as student body president in 2003 and 2004, graduated from UND with a bachelor's degree in 2005. He died in December, seven months after going into a coma as a result of a fight last May.
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