Humphrey School News—May 20, 2019

Commencement 2019 Message to Graduates: Find Your Purpose, Connect With Others

2019 Commencement Address: Laysha Ward

Finding success in the world of public policy is all about relationships, graduates of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs heard at their commencement ceremony Saturday—relationships with the places they live and work, with those who help them succeed, and with those they’ll meet in the future.

An enthusiastic crowd of faculty, staff, family, and friends attended the ceremony at Ted Mann Concert Hall to celebrate the accomplishments of 188 graduates, including three who received their doctoral degrees.

Commencement speaker Laysha Ward received special recognition, an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Minnesota, for her long advocacy of public service in her role as a top executive at Target.

Saying she was “immensely proud” of their accomplishments, Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg reminded the class of 2019 that its members come from throughout the United States and 15 foreign countries.

“Our School community here in this place is enriched because our students come here to study from all over the state, all over the country, and from parts across the globe,” said Bloomberg (pictured below). “We are a better school because of the geographic, place-based diversity of our academic community.”

Dean Laura Bloomberg, in commencement regalia, stands behind a podium speaking at the Humphrey School commencement ceremony at Ted Mann Concert Hall May 18, 2019

“Today is a good day to ponder this,” she added. “How will you draw on the experiences you’ve had and the connections you’ve made in this place? How will you nurture these connections and friendships, to help shape your personal and professional future and drive the goals you want to achieve—not only for yourself but for your community, for your place in society?”

Ward, executive vice president and chief external engagement officer at Target, continued that theme by urging the graduates to lead a purpose-driven life.

“A purpose, or calling, serves as your GPS. It guides your life and the decisions you make,” said Ward. “With purpose, you find meaning, and make an impact. With purpose, you call upon courage in the most challenging of times. With purpose, you discover joy.”

Ward, who has been with Target for 28 years, said she was humbled and grateful to receive an Honorary Doctor of Laws for public service, the highest award conferred by the University of Minnesota and the first honorary degree awarded by the Humphrey School in 10 years.

Ward, who grew up in rural Indiana, said she attended Head Start, a preschool program for low-income children, when she was young. She went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Chicago, and is a top executive at one of the largest retailers in the country.  

“As the old saying goes, where you start out in life doesn’t dictate where you end. I didn’t get to this moment alone,” she said. “We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Family, friends, mentors, teachers—all the people who supported us in our dreams. We owe it to them, ourselves, and future generations to pay it forward, to do more to advance the common good; more than what is comfortable; and more than we even believe is within us.”

Panoramic photo of the audience at Ted Mann Concert Hall for Humphrey School commencement, May 18, 2019

To help counter the mistrust and cynicism in society today, “we need every single one of you,” Ward said. “We have reason for optimism and hope. There are heroes among us who refuse to give into cynicism. Leaders who believe they can change the world. Leaders who are authentic and purposeful. Leaders like you.”

Rachel Dame, a Master of Public Policy candidate who served as president of the Humphrey School’s Public Affairs Student Association, was chosen by her peers to deliver the student address. In a very personal speech, she said the supportive relationships she has developed at the School allowed her to speak publicly for the first time about her mental health.

“I struggle daily with chronic anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and depression,” Dame said. “Humphrey is [the place] where classmates and professors talked about their own mental health openly. Humphrey professors created a culture where mental health issues did not impede my ability to learn. Because of the relationships with peers and professors, I am no longer afraid to talk about mental health.”

Head shot of Rachel Dame in her cap and gown as she prepares for Humphrey School commencement, May 18, 2019

Dame (pictured at left) urged her fellow graduates to keep seeking out relationships with others, especially those with differing backgrounds, to foster more understanding.

“As we move into our next phase of life we must continue this mission of the Humphrey School,  which is to inspire, educate, and support innovative leaders to advance the common good in a diverse world,” Dame said. “We need to remember the common good only advances when we grow individually through exposure to the personal experiences of others, and this exposure only occurs with relationships.”  

Humphrey School Alumni Board member Sarah Berke (MPP ‘10) welcomed the graduates as new alumni. She urged them to stay connected to one another and to the Humphrey School, even as they embark on their new careers.

“Today, each of you becomes an ambassador of one of the nation’s top public policy and planning schools. Don’t underestimate the opportunities your training will afford you, or the respect the Humphrey brand carries. Use these to make a positive, permanent difference,” Berke said, closing her remarks with a quote from Hubert Humphrey: “Let us remember to march in such a way that others will wish to join us."

Bloomberg concluded the ceremony with a special thank you to family and friends who supported the graduates during their studies at the Humphrey School. “Now it is our turn to watch them go out and change the world for the better.”

See more photos 

Watch the entire ceremony


The Humphrey School Class of 2019 includes 188 graduates—185 master’s degree recipients and three doctoral degree recipients. 

Here are the number of graduates by degree program: 

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Public Affairs (PhD), 3
  • Master of Development Practice (MDP), 13
  • Master of Human Rights (MHR), 12
  • Master of Public Affairs (MPA), 31
  • Master of Public Policy (MPP), 76
  • Master of Science in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (MS–STEP), 18
  • Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP), 35 
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