Humphrey School News—May 15, 2016

Humphrey School Graduates Urged to 'Change the World For the Better'

With an exhortation to lead the country in a new and more hopeful direction, 170 graduates of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs celebrated their commencement Sunday afternoon, and will soon take their places as leaders in public service in the United States and around the globe.

Faculty, staff, family, and friends attended the ceremony at the Ted Mann Concert Hall to recognize the academic and professional accomplishments of the master’s degree recipients, who represent 20 U.S. states and 18 foreign countries.

Eric Schwartz, dean of the Humphrey School, told the graduates their expertise, commitment and enthusiasm is especially needed at this time, in the midst of a presidential campaign that features “loud voices of intolerance appealing to our fears, rather than to our hopes and our aspirations.”

The students’ challenge is two-fold, Schwartz continued.

“First, to confront and contest forthrightly those loud voices of intolerance at each and every turn. Second … to promote a politics of civility that recognizes and seeks to address the real fears and anxieties of millions of Americans who feel threatened by rapid change that seems far out of their control.”

Keynote speaker Mee Moua focused on a similar theme, saying the graduates are in a position to help create “the best possible future for all of us by addressing long-standing inequities” that continue to hinder many in society. Moua, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) in Washington DC, is a former Minnesota state senator. Born in Laos, she moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 9 years old.

In her moving and very personal remarks, Moua recounted her family’s harrowing escape from Laos during the Vietnam War, followed by several difficult years living at a Thai refugee camp until finally settling in a small city in the Midwest in 1978. Moua said she and her family were some of the first Asian Americans to ever live in that community, and they faced overt racism and bigotry.

After one especially upsetting incident when several boys threw eggs at their house, Moua’s mother told her there will always be people who won’t like her because she’s an immigrant. “Then she said, ‘This is why you must study hard, you must finish high school, and go to college and come back and be their boss,’” said Moua.

Ultimately, that’s what she did. Moua thrived in her adopted country and earned bachelor’s, master’s, and law degrees. She made history as the first Hmong-American to be elected to a state legislature when she won a seat in the Minnesota Senate in 2002. She served in office until 2011 and moved into the nonprofit sector. 

“My personal journey—from the mountains of war-torn Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand, to the halls of the Minnesota Senate and now the steps of our nation’s Capitol—is an improbable story that can happen only in America,” she said. “I always knew I owed it to all those who didn’t or couldn’t make it [to freedom] to take full advantage of every opportunity that came my way in this great country.”

Moua called on the graduates to do the same—to seize the opportunity to be leaders in the effort to “envision and redesign and re-invest in the most basic and fundamental institutions that are necessary for the economic growth and vitality of our collective future.”  

Tane Soeldner-Danger, MPP, the student speaker, mixed things up a bit when he got onstage. Soeldner-Danger is the co-creator of the civics-inspired improv show, The Theater of Public Policy, which brings issues of policy, politics, and science to life on stage through unscripted comedy theater.

He invited Dean Schwartz and Associate Dean Laura Bloomberg to join him for a little improv to illustrate his vision of leadership.  Soeldner-Danger led the school’s top two leaders in a one-word story exercise, where they created a short story by each saying just one word at a time.

The game is a model of collaboration, and that was Soeldner-Danger’s message to his fellow graduates about how they should function as leaders.

“Our job is not to simply provide the data or analysis so someone else can tell a story,” he said. “Our task is to work together to tell those stories, to constantly be listening to what is being said and left unsaid. To play the vital roles that make the story sing. And to build something bigger together than any one of us could do by ourselves.”

Humphrey School Alumni Board member Jeff Williams (MA ’96), who just completed his term as president, urged the graduates to stay connected to one another and to the Humphrey School, even as they embark on their new careers.

“You are now ambassadors of one of the nation’s top public policy teaching and research institutions,” said Williams, who is chief executive officer of Public Sector Consultants, a nonpartisan public policy research firm headquartered in Lansing, Michigan. “So go forth and wield the power and influence that comes with that role, and make a permanent, positive difference in the world. The school—and the future of public policy—depend on it.”

Schwartz concluded the ceremony with a special thank you to the 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.”

Graduating Class:

The Humphrey School Class of 2016 includes 170 graduates. 

Graduate degrees include: Master of Development Practice (MDP); Master of Public Affairs (Mid-Career) (MPA); Master of Public Policy (MPP); Master of Science in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (MS-STEP); and Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP)

The breakdown by program for the Humphrey School Class of 2016:

  • Master of Development Practice (MDP), 17
  • Master of Public Affairs, (MPA), 31
  • Master of Public Policy (MPP), 86
  • Master of Science in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (MS-STEP), 7
  • Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP), 29
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