Chancellor Green, thank you for that kind introduction and the invitation to be here today. I am honored to celebrate with all of you.
To our graduates, congratulations. Only you know what it took you to arrive at this moment—cherish it, cherish it. To all the parents, aunts and uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, cousins, faculty, staff and friends in the room, thank you. I know well the joy of watching a loved one walk across this stage. The support and guidance you have given to the graduates means more than you know. This is your day too.
As I look out upon the graduates, I see many emotions; pride, excitement, probably some sadness about ending one chapter, mixed with hope about turning the page to the next, and perhaps some of your heads are spinning as mine once was. I clearly remember sitting in that seat three times.
Initially, I had arrived at the University of Nebraska four years earlier with not the slightest inkling of how this incredible institution would come to shape my life and my career. No one in my family had gone to a four-year college, but in his typical pragmatic way, my father had informed me "My taxes help build the university, so that's where you're going to go." That sounded reasonable to me.
I may have been a little green around the edges when I showed up on campus, but I was eager to learn and deeply curious—the result of years of reading the books my godfather gave me every birthday that celebrated the rich history of places, like my family's farm near Crete, while also opening my eyes to new ideas and the bigger world around me. I had always been good with numbers. So, I decided I would become an accountant. It was a relatively uncommon field for women at the time, but I was blessed with wonderful professors and mentors and enjoyed my coursework immensely. Everything was going according to plan.
Then two weeks before I was to take the CPA exam, I woke up and realized this isn't what I wanted to do with my life. I called home and I told my parents I had canceled the examination. I think I held the phone out to here for a good five minutes, before I got another word in. I will never know what would have happened if I would have silenced that voice inside me, and taken that exam. Maybe I would have had a perfectly pleasant career as an accountant. But 37-some years later, I get to wake up every day and come to a job that I love, doing work that I'm passionate about, with more adventure still on the way. I know I made the right choice for me—serving this place and these people, with these opportunities before us, is a privilege of a lifetime.
"You might be tempted to stay on a familiar path rather than make yourself vulnerable by taking a risk, but know this: every time we impose a limit upon ourselves, we give a little something away."
I don't want to give the accounting graduates in the room any ideas. We do need each and every one of you, but I tell you this story to make a point. It is always the right time to make a change that you believe in. You might get a stern lecture, as I did. You might be scared, as I was. You might be tempted to stay on a familiar path rather than make yourself vulnerable by taking a risk, but know this: every time we impose a limit upon ourselves, we give a little something away.
I am calling on each of you not to let that happen. Our state and the nation are depending on your leadership, your talents, and your ideas now as much as ever. It is your humility, grace, curiosity, and resilience that will carry us forward. Your openness to change, your willingness to seek the rich dimensions in other people and your refusal to never stop growing will ensure that you are an active participant in the future, instead of simply a spectator.
This place and these people have prepared you for these opportunities now before you. And there is no doubt in my mind you will seize them. You are ready for this moment because you have a University of Nebraska education—a distinction you are earning today that will carry with you forever.
In its 150-year history, the University of Nebraska has never shied from boldness. This was the first institution west of the Mississippi River to offer graduate education. This is the institution that educated pioneering Nebraska scholars like Willa Cather, Louise Pound and Mari Sandoz. This is the institution that today is at the forefront in solving the great challenges of our time, hunger, climate change, disease, national security. This is the institution that gave someone like me the opportunity to stand before you today.
I know that you too will follow this model of discovery, growth and change. It's a way of life here in Nebraska. It is the credo we should all live by. You will not remember everything you've learned in the classroom over the past several years—and as a faculty member I'm allowed to say that—but you will remember the values you learned here. If I'm in a position to offer advice at all, I would urge you to live those values every day in every experience and every decision.
"No matter what you accomplish, some will underestimate you. Let them. Remember that you can compete with anybody. We're Nebraskans. We can out-compete."
Every human interaction is an opportunity to lighten another person's load. Allow others to see things in you that you may not see in yourself. Someone may help you unlock your potential in a way you would have never expected. And know that no matter what you accomplish, some will underestimate you. Let them. Remember that you can compete with anybody. We're Nebraskans. We can out-compete.
And, never close your mind. Never impose a limit upon yourself that will let an opportunity pass you by. Whether you are open to change or not will perhaps be the greatest driving factor behind your ability to create the future you want.
Not long ago I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with a UNL graduate student who was working on a class project. She shared a quote with me from a book she had read on leadership that has stayed with me. “The legacy you leave is the life you lead.“ This is your opportunity to lead a life of service, of kindness to others, of continual learning, of responsibility to the people and places around you. Now more than ever, the future depends on your leadership. May we all lead a life that leaves a legacy we can be proud of.
Congratulations again to the newest graduates of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I am so proud of all that you have accomplished and I can't wait to see what's next.