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Jim Mochoruk: Graduates, exercise your abilities to lead

Your ability to think and read critically, to effectively communicate ideas to others, and your awareness that you will always be on a journey to learn more, and to acquire new skills in order to adapt to a rapidly changing world, all of these will stand you in good stead as you embark on the next chapter of your life.

James Mochoruk.jpg
James Mochoruk
Jackie Lorentz
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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the summer commencement speech given to UND graduates by Jim Mochoruk, a UND Chester Fritz distinguished professor of history.

It is a great honor to be here today giving the commencement address to this outstanding graduating class and its family and friends. All of you should be incredibly proud of what you have accomplished, for success at university always calls for considerable sacrifice – in terms of time, effort, and of course, money. But you should be doubly proud because you have accomplished this in the most unusual of times – in the midst of a pandemic that threw everything into a state of profound uncertainty. You not only coped, adapted, and persisted – you succeeded. Well done!

I feel confident that you folks will go forward from UND and accomplish great things; indeed, I am certain that you will become leaders because of the skills you have acquired or honed while you were here. Your ability to think and read critically, to effectively communicate ideas to others, and your awareness that you will always be on a journey to learn more, and to acquire new skills in order to adapt to a rapidly changing world, all of these will stand you in good stead as you embark on the next chapter of your life.

I don’t use the word leader lightly. Here at UND we proudly proclaim that we support the development of “leaders in action.” But all too often when we use the word “leader” we only think of the person who is in charge – the CEO of the company, the commanding officer in the armed forces, the individual who makes the great scientific or creative breakthrough – in short, the person who is at center stage. Given that deeply ingrained image, some of you may not yet see yourselves as leaders, or even as potential leaders. Instead, you may prefer to be a quiet contributor to endeavors “led” by others.

To be sure, some of you will undoubtedly fit the traditional model of leadership – and will perform admirably in such a role. But I would urge all of you to think a bit differently and to realize that leadership, like love, is a many-splendored thing. As well-educated and engaged citizens of the world it will be both your duty and your responsibility to lead – and I urge you to happily accept the mantle of leadership.

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But that does not mean that you must assume the traditional definition of a leader. Some of you may choose to employ a different type of leadership. Instead of striving to be the person who is always the “decision-maker in chief,” and who is served by others, you can lead by example, by fostering collaboration, and by encouraging those around you to take the initiative and be risk-takers. In effect, you can lead by empowering others to make decisions and to become leaders themselves. And this type of leadership can be practiced in almost any setting – not just in the corporate world. It is something you can and will do in your families, in your civic lives, as well as in the workplace; in fact, in all of your interactions with others. And you are already well prepared to lead in this way; indeed, many of you have already become such leaders – even if you don’t fully recognize it yet.

I say this not as a mere platitude but as something I know to be a fact. How can I be so sure? Well, when I looked over the list of today’s graduates, I saw many names of people that I have had the privilege of knowing – in the classroom, through committee work, and in other cases as friends, neighbors, and staff colleagues. Thus, I have personally witnessed how so many of you have led by example; indeed, I have been inspired by the way so many of you have persevered through these trying times – showing your friends, siblings, children, parents, and other loved ones that hard work and determination can overcome almost anything. You may not realize it yet, but those of you who worked, studied, and still managed to find time for your friends and family were acting as leaders – and those around you have already benefited from that inspirational leadership.

I also want to give a quick nod to those of you for whom I have a special affinity – educators. Some of you graduating here today are consciously becoming teachers – having earned degrees in education or advanced degrees that will allow you to teach at the university or community college level in your chosen field. You will, by definition, be leaders in the classroom. But almost everyone graduating here today will be teachers (and therefore leaders) in one way or another – be it in the home with your family, in the workplace with your peers, as volunteers in your community – and the list goes on and on. This is both an awesome responsibility and an incredible opportunity. In these settings you will be able to share so much - your passion, your knowledge, your skills, your commitment, and above all, that sense of wonder about the world and the love of learning that I hope you have imbibed while here at UND.

In short, I urge you to exercise your unquestioned abilities to lead – and to do so in the ways and manner that are most comfortable to you, and most useful to our world. I wish you all the best of luck as you lead us forward.

Thank you.

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