Commencement 2024: Graduates Told 'the World Awaits Your Leadership'

May 15, 2024
Dean Nisha Botchwey speaks at commencement 2024
Humphrey School Dean Nisha Botchwey congratulates graduates at the School's commencement ceremony May 11, 2024. Photos: Bruce Silcox

Sunny spring weather contributed to the celebratory mood at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 11. 

An enthusiastic crowd of faculty, staff, family, and friends attended the ceremony at Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota, as some 150 graduates received their master’s degrees, along with three who completed their doctoral degrees. 

Humphrey School Dean Nisha Botchwey congratulated the graduates for completing their degrees, which she described as a significant accomplishment.

“It requires dedication, perseverance, and a deep commitment to public service and leadership. You have spent countless hours immersing yourselves in the complexities of public policy, engaging in rigorous discussions, and collaborating with your peers and mentors. You have done it!,” she said. “And when you walk across this stage today, you emerge not only as experts in your field but as leaders poised to tackle our world’s most pressing challenges.” 

Botchwey noted that the graduates navigated a path through some of those pressing challenges over the past two years, including climate change, racial injustice, economic inequality, and global political turmoil. 

“Yet, your resolve remains unwavering. Your generation stands poised to confront these challenges head on as policy leaders, armed with knowledge, empathy, and a profound sense of justice,” Botchwey said. “As you step into the world beyond these halls, remember the strength you have demonstrated and the potential you hold to drive meaningful change. The world awaits your leadership.” 

Watch video of the ceremony  See photos


Melvin Carter stands at the podium at commencement 2024
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter

Keynote speaker Melvin Carter, mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota, and a Humphrey School alumnus, shared a few memories from his time as a student and joked that it took him nine years to complete his two-year Master of Public Policy degree. 

He noted that many students at the Humphrey School say they want to change the world. But “the world is a big place,” and the challenges can seem insurmountable for one person to face. So he recommended looking at that goal from a different perspective. 

“What if instead of trying to change the world, we each committed ourselves to making a meaningful connection with just one more person? What if I connect with one more person, and you connect with one more person, and Dean Botchway connects with one more person, and we all get up and do it again tomorrow?

“‘Believe in yourself and you can change the world.’ This is important advice, but I’ve become even more enamored with a reciprocal idea: Believe in the world, and you can change yourself.

“The great American experiment started with the words, ‘We the People.’ Those three simple words hold both the toxin and the cure. Our worst moments are those when “we” clearly didn’t yet mean all of us. Our best moments are those that have allowed us to expand the promise of ‘we’ to include women, African Americans, Indigenous peoples, immigrants and refugees, and our LGBTQ neighbors.

“My simple challenge for you today is to go expand your ‘we.’

“When you meet someone who deserves better policy or better service from your organization, receive them as a subject matter expert from whom you can glean valuable insight. When you meet your opposition, step into their shoes and see how their perspective is human, too. Surprise them with your willingness to listen and learn, even from them. 

“All the people who have changed the world … What anchored them was their belief in human potential. If you can believe in the human spirit, then that means you are not the only good person left. And if we believe in others, if we believe in the world, then we can be the ones who actually break the cycles we want to see broken.

“This is the journey. This is our life’s work. And it starts with one person. Change just one person at a time. And the only person you are guaranteed to change is yourself. If you are committed to that challenge, then you will have all the opportunities to change the world.”

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar congratulated the graduates in a brief video message played at the ceremony. She encouraged them to work on solving the challenges of the day through collaboration with others.  

“Democracy is on the line in so many ways, and one of the ways we get through all of this is by making sure we listen to people with different views, making sure that we understand that what unites us is still bigger than what divides us,” she said. “I’m proud to represent the state of Minnesota, and I’m even prouder to be able to share with you today this moment of joy.”    

Student speaker Kaelin Walker behind the podium at commencement 2024
Kaelin Walker (MPP '24)

Student speaker Kaelin Walker, a Master of Public Policy graduate, was chosen by her peers to deliver the student address. 

Walker reflected on her transformative journey at the Humphrey School over the past two years, emphasizing the profound personal growth she experienced and the diverse friendships she formed with peers from around the globe. 

During her address, she expressed deep empathy and concern for the tragic consequences of the Israel/Hamas conflict.    

“I feel pride in you, my friends, for all we’ve been through to get to this point. I know we feel frustration and the irony of learning from a capitalistic institution, when what some of us really want is to dismantle these systems and build them from the ground up,” Walker said. “But we know that this education also gives us the tools to challenge unjust systems, that our critical thinking can sift through the lies and uncover the truths, and that our motivation for justice, equity, reparations, safety, and kindness, is stronger than hopelessness.”

Alumni Board President Robin Caufman (MURP ‘01) welcomed the graduates as new alumni. 

“Over the years, there has been one thing that draws people to the Humphrey School; the desire to make their community, state, country and world a better place,” Kaufman said. “My classmates had this drive and have now had over two decades to apply the skills they learned at the Humphrey School. Now it is your turn!”

She also encouraged the new graduates to remain connected to the Humphrey School. 

“The Humphrey School community has supported me as I’ve grown in my career, and it can be there to support you too—whether it is networking with other policy professionals, utilizing one of the research arms, or learning from guest speakers and programs,” she said. “I also encourage you to give back to the Humphrey School and support the following classes of students. It doesn’t take much, and I guarantee you will get more in return. Just as I have learned from many of you.”

Graduates at commencement 2024 waving to the audience
Graduates celebrate at 2024 commencement. Photo: Bruce Silcox

End-of-year awards

Prior to the commencement ceremony, the Humphrey School hosted an awards brunch to recognize students from each master's degree program for their academic excellence, as well as instructors and teaching assistants for their contributions to the Humphrey School learning community.  

See the list of honorees   See photos from the brunch