The mood was celebratory and the talk was of leadership and hope, as this year’s graduates of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs celebrated their accomplishments at commencement on Saturday, May 13.
An enthusiastic crowd of faculty, staff, family, and friends attended the ceremony at Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota, as some 165 graduates received their master’s degrees, along with five who were recognized for completing their doctoral degrees.
Humphrey School Dean Nisha Botchwey told the graduates they have acquired the tools they need to lead and shape public policy in a divided country and world.
“The work we do as public leaders and professionals is not about us, but rather, it is about serving the greater good. It is about finding common ground, and working towards sustainable and long-term solutions that benefit everyone, not just a select few,” she said. “We are at a critical moment in our history, and the challenges we face as a society are complex and multifaceted. But I am hopeful for the future because you are leading it. I encourage you to take with you the lessons you have learned at the Humphrey School. You have the skills, knowledge, and experiences needed to solve real-world challenges, and to make a positive impact in your communities.”
Commencement speaker Chanda Smith Baker, senior vice president of the Minneapolis Foundation, recounted the challenges she faced while completing her college degree as a single mother with two young children, and how that experience has shaped her approach to leadership over her 25-year career.
“We all have encountered times in our lives when the road ahead seems uncertain. We have all had to navigate systems and places that were necessary for us to get ahead, to overcome barriers that seemed to have no other role than to keep us in our place. What I have learned is that leadership is creating the conditions for others to be successful. … that leadership is to be experienced in relationship to others,” she said.
“You are graduating from a powerful institution. The Humphrey School of Public Affairs holds weight and holds so much possibility for our future. It is an accomplishment that you should be extremely proud of; it will assist you in the opportunity to influence others in ways that they may never know.
“When I think about the brilliance that is in this auditorium, it brings me hope. When I imagine the offices you will run for, the policies you will influence, and the leadership roles you will hold, I get excited about the progress that will be made.
“As you move forward, remember that you are part of a larger community of leaders and changemakers. Remember that every time you act on a policy or leadership decision, there are people connected to it. Never become so powerful you forget to learn or take time to sit with someone who has traveled down a different road. You have the power to make a positive impact in the world, and it is a gift. Use it wisely.”
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar made an unannounced appearance to congratulate the graduates and encourage them to take an active role in addressing the challenges of the day.
“You are graduating at a time when we have seen fractures in our healthcare system, our infrastructure, our democracy. From challenges with climate change to public safety to immigration reform to education, to civil rights, to protecting our most fundamental freedoms, it feels like everything is on the line right now,” Klobuchar said. “All of you give me hope because you are getting a degree in things we need right now. We need people who think this way, who want to solve problems instead of just make problems. We want people who work to pursue the common good all of the time.”
Klobuchar also reflected on the January 6, 2021, insurrection, when a mob of Donald Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol to try and prevent Congress from counting the electoral college votes to formalize Joe Biden’s victory as president. Eventually the Capitol was cleared of rioters and the counting of the electoral votes resumed and was completed in the early morning hours of January 7.
“We said that day that democracy would prevail, and it did,” Klobuchar said. “So with your degree, I'm asking you to … carry on that torch. At this school, you have met students with different ideological views, and have been able to have real debates; you’ve been able to talk about different ideas. You have had these moments when you thought, 'I’m going to learn something new, I’m going to respectfully listen.' We need more of that in our democracy right now, in a big, big way.
“What I want you to think about is the namesake of this School, Hubert Humphrey, who talked about the politics of happiness, the politics of purpose, and the politics of joy. So please go forward with purpose with these great degrees, go forward with solutions, but most of all, go forward with joy.”
Student speaker Ruby DeBellis, a Master of Science in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy graduate, was chosen by her peers to deliver the student address. She also has been working for Sen. Klobuchar for the past four years as an outreach director handling a portfolio of issues including housing, public safety, women’s issues, and others.
DeBellis acknowledged that the problems facing society seem insurmountable. “But what gives me hope is that I am looking at a group of graduates who reject that notion. We have chosen to believe that a better future is possible, and have strived every day to equip ourselves with the tools necessary to make a change, even when it’s hard,” she said.
“While our degrees are a visible symbol of our success and determination, we have also made invaluable connections from our time spent together. Learning alongside each other, and from one another, with our diverse backgrounds, ideas, and experiences makes us ready to take on the greatest challenges of our time.
“While we all have our own ideas of how to fix whatever problems have motivated us to earn our graduate degree, I believe we share a collective vision of what improving our world can look like. I look forward to working with you all in our pursuit of a better future, and I can’t wait to see what we build.”
Alumni Board President Jeremy Schupbach (MPP ‘09) welcomed the graduates as new alumni. He encouraged them to be willing to take risks in pursuing their dreams, while taking advantage of their strong ties to the Humphrey School.
“The Alumni Society is a place where alumni remain connected with each other as well as the University. It is a platform for us to network, mentor, and support each other throughout our personal and professional lives,” he said. “Let us continue to support each other and the Humphrey School as we advance the common good in our diverse world. Welcome to the Alumni Society, and congratulations on being part of this amazing community!”
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.