The excitement was palpable as graduates of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs celebrated their commencement Saturday at the first in-person ceremony in three years.
Due to pandemic restrictions, the School held virtual ceremonies the past two years, but some graduates from 2020 and 2021 returned to participate.
An enthusiastic crowd of faculty, staff, family, and friends attended the ceremony at Ted Mann Concert Hall to celebrate the accomplishments of more than 150 master’s degree recipients, along with six who received their doctoral degrees.
At her first commencement as dean of the Humphrey School, Nisha Botchwey praised the graduates for their perseverance through a difficult few years, marked by the pandemic and racial injustice sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police nearly two years ago. Other challenges await them, she added.
“Graduates, the world’s challenges are playing out before us with conflicts happening around the globe, human rights violations, and climate crises to name just a few,” Botchwey said. “The world is small – what happens across the globe affects each one of us. And what you do in response to those challenges will have a positive impact on public affairs; on people and communities around the world. You have the power to make that change.”
Commencement speaker Bonnie Jenkins, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs and an expert on assessing global threats, urged the graduates to find innovative ways to solve today’s challenges.
”We must approach these issues with imagination, strength, resolve, and a willingness to work with people from all walks of life to tackle them,” Jenkins said. “If there is any time that we need new thinking and young voices to help address these global challenges, it is today.”
Jenkins, who was a senior fellow in the Humphrey School’s global policy area before her appointment, is the first African American to hold the rank of Under Secretary of State. She founded a nonprofit organization in 2018 devoted to supporting women of color in the fields of national security and conflict resolution, saying that the work of solving global challenges is too important to “leave anyone out.”
“Advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility is not just something to be done and then stopped. Every single one of you should be mindful of the need for positive change, and ask yourselves what you are doing regularly to promote that change and to bring inclusion into your work in public affairs,” Jenkins said. “Seek what is different and challenging. We all have a responsibility to cultivate a diverse workplace, where everyone can thrive.”
Student speaker Audrianna Goodwin, a Master of Public Policy graduate, was chosen by her peers to deliver the student address.
Goodwin, a member of the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe, wore a ceremonial ‘jingle dress’ as she spoke movingly of the barriers that Native people have faced for generations and the trauma they still feel, particularly from the boarding school era when the government took Indian children away from their families.
Goodwin noted that she was part of a research project examining the University of Minnesota’s fraught relationship with the state’s Indian tribes.
“And through that experience, I have realized that spaces like these were never intended for people like me. But here I am, a … graduate of one of the best public policy schools in the United States. This has been a life-changing moment not only for my family, but for my people, because as I enter these spaces I know that they, and my ancestors, are with me,” she said.
Goodwin encouraged her fellow graduates to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and “do better” for society, using the tools they have learned from the Humphrey School.
“As we leave this space today and go off into various parts of the world, I want to remind you all of the community we have built here, and of debwewin minowaa gwayaakchigewin, truth and honesty, which means ‘to say and do the right thing, and to speak and do from the heart.’ Because through community and through connection we can create change, and we can envision a brighter, more inclusive future for all peoples.”
Honorary degree recipient Daisaku Ikeda, a Japanese Buddhist philosopher, peacebuilder, educator, author, and poet, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters for his “unwavering belief in the vital need to unite people of goodwill and conscience to promote peace, culture, human rights, and education worldwide.” A representative of Ikeda accepted the award and spoke on his behalf.
“It is my hope and my confidence that today’s graduates will achieve personal happiness and success as well as great contributions for the future of a united humankind,” he said. “Today as I proudly join the University of Minnesota family, I firmly pledge to work alongside young people throughout the world to ensure that the great flow of peace, culture and education continues into the future.”
Alumni Board President Kristin Thompson (MURP ‘06) welcomed the graduates as new alumni. She urged them to remain in contact with one another and the Humphrey School, even as they embark on their new careers.
“There are so many ways to stay connected and give back, from attending events to mentoring students. Alumni play a critical role in supporting the school’s mission– each one of you has an important role to play in that,” Thompson said. “But first, celebrate! Take pride in what you have accomplished, and take that next leap forward with joy and confidence.”