Celebrating Both the Pomp and Circumstance

This week, MSUM will celebrate Commencement with more than 400 new graduates and hundreds of their family members and friends. I know it will be a vivid reminder of the transformative power of education and, in many cases, the triumph of the human spirit over challenging circumstances.

Every graduate has a unique story. And every story has drama: plot twists, compelling characters, conflict, and (at least on Commencement Day) the promise of a happy ending. But many students and their families overcome enormous barriers to achieve their aspirations.

Our international graduates, in particular, exhibit extraordinary courage and determination. As they walk across the stage to receive their diplomas, I can see the pride, relief, elation, and exhaustion on their faces. Many did not have a single acquaintance or contact when they came to America. Most speak English as a second (or third) language. All of them have overcome cultural barriers, loneliness, and homesickness to earn their degrees.

The graduates who are the first in their families to earn a college degree are equally inspiring. During our ceremony, we ask these first-generation graduates to stand and be recognized. Even without this special recognition, it’s often apparent which students are the first in their families to graduate from college. Their families are especially joyous—and awed by the magnitude of the moment. It’s obvious they understand that a college degree changes not only the graduate’s life but also the trajectory of the family.

Regardless of their particular circumstances, every graduate works hard to earn the right to cross the stage on Commencement Day. If history is a guide, about 40% of them will stay in Fargo-Moorhead to begin their careers. I can’t wait to see what they’ll accomplish next.

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