Walter “Ted” Carter Jr. challenged the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s August graduates to think globally, engage in civil discourse and commit to being their best selves.
The president of the University of Nebraska system delivered the keynote address, “A Common Purpose,” during the undergraduate commencement ceremony Aug. 14 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Carter said the graduates have truly shown their grit during a time like no other in U.S. history, with the country facing a global pandemic, economic crisis and racial inequities.
Carter, who served as superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy and president of the U.S. Naval War College before coming to Nebraska, said he has found inspiration in Vice Adm. James Bond Stockdale, a senior U.S. Navy pilot who was held prisoner for seven-and-a-half years in Vietnam. After enduring “indescribable torture,” including four years in solitary confinement, Stockdale still found a way to lift the spirits of his fellow prisoners by communicating through the walls with a tap code. He communicated what is now known as the Stockdale Paradox: “Have faith that you will persevere, but have the discipline to face your reality.”
Carter said he can’t think of a time when that paradox — faith and hope vs. reality — is more true.
“The reality is we’re not done with COVID-19 — we probably won’t be for a long time — but we’re living with it, we’re managing it and we’re here,” he said.
Carter said the graduates, as smart and talented as they are, will still face many grand challenges related to areas such as food and water security, cybersecurity and changing weather patterns.
“The point is, today a crisis for anyone is a crisis for everyone,” he said.
Carter, who played college hockey, also told the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, a young, relatively inexperienced group that upset the heavily favored Soviet team to win the gold medal. The American team’s coach, Herb Brooks, told his players before the gold-medal game: “It’s your time; their time is over. Go out there and take it.”
Carter told the graduates that now is their time.
“It is your time because you are the generation that knows, ‘It’s not about me; it’s about we,’” he said. “You’re the generation that understands that there’s something out there that’s bigger than yourselves.”
He asked the graduates to commit to being their best selves.
Carter also pointed out that many Americans have lost faith in their leaders. He said the only way to regain that trust is to look beyond social media for answers.
“Maybe we need to talk more to each other, have civil discourse,” he said. “Find that way of healing so that we can all serve a common good, a common purpose, so that we can bring back trust.”
Carter said the graduates will leave the university with the ideas of perseverance and empathy, a sense of character and honor for themselves and their families, and wisdom.
“It’s your time because you understand service,” he said. “You don’t have to have a patch on your arm to have honor. You don’t have to be an elected official. You don’t have to serve in the military. Go be your best self. Follow your passion. We need you.”
The university presented Leta Powell Drake, local television pioneer and Husker alumna, with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during the undergraduate ceremony.
A broadcaster, producer, screenwriter and TV personality, Drake served as program director of KOLN-TV for 28 years, hosting and producing the station’s morning show for 25 years. She created and portrayed the character Kalamity Kate on the children’s show “Cartoon Corral,” which she hosted and produced from 1967 to 1980. She also served as the assistant network program manager for Nebraska Public Television for 13 years and was the spokesperson for its fund drives and auctions.
Drake has been inducted into the Nebraska Broadcasters Hall of Fame and Nebraska Press Women’s Hall of Fame. She is also a member of the Screen Actors Guild, having acted in more than 100 plays and two movies. She currently hosts “Live & Learn,” a program for seniors on Lincoln’s City TV; and serves on numerous boards, including those of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, Nebraska Alumni Association and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Nebraska. In 2020, Drake found herself becoming an internet sensation when her numerous interviews of celebrities went viral. A native of Duluth, Minnesota, she holds a bachelor’s degree in speech and English from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in theatre arts from Nebraska.
Daniel Linzell, associate dean for graduate and international programs in the College of Engineering and Leslie D. Martin Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, spoke to the graduate and professional degree earners Aug. 13 at the arena.
Linzell, an avid angler, said there are a lot of commonalities among fishing, earning an advanced degree and the graduates’ future pursuits. He emphasized that all involve setting goals, learning, adjusting and trying again.
“You keep angling for a better outcome; you keep angling for a better future,” he said. “You keep casting your line in the water.”
Linzell said the more the graduates adjust, the more they cast, the higher the likelihood of success.
“You get closer to catching that fish — be it creating an iconic piece of art, figuring out how to improve food production, successfully arguing your case in front of mentors and peers, learning how to better educate English language learners, whatever,” he said. “And when you catch that fish, maybe you try to catch another one, a bigger one. Eliminate world hunger? Poverty? Pollution? Illiteracy? You cast your line into the water yet again.”
Linzell said the graduates are well-positioned to address the world’s problems and move civilization forward.
“What you learned as you angled for your degree at UNL better prepares you to cast your line into the water as you try to ‘catch’ a better way of treating illnesses, ‘catch’ a legal decision that benefits a vulnerable group, ‘catch’ a dance performance that inspires, ‘catch’ a poem that challenges,” he said.
Linzell also encouraged the graduates to find a passion like fishing that takes them away, physically and mentally, from their day jobs.
Chancellor Ronnie Green presided over the August commencement exercises, during which 2020 graduates were also celebrated. More than 700 returned to cross the stage in front of family and friends.
Green said he is immensely proud of what students have been able to accomplish during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Your perseverance through the greatest global health crisis in 100 years is why we are here today,” he said. “Your resilience, your determination and your grit are certainly a part of what we celebrate in this academic milestone in your lives.”
Before turning their tassels, the Aug. 14 graduates received a surprise video message from country star Garth Brooks.
“Remember, everything that is a blessing is a curse; everything that is a curse is a blessing,” said Brooks, who is performing at Memorial Stadium Aug. 14. “What’s gone on (these) last two years in your life is a curse; it’ll be a blessing down the road because there’s nothing you can’t tackle, especially with your diploma in your pocket.”
The university conferred 688 degrees during the August commencement ceremonies. The 676 graduates are from 40 countries, 38 states and 80 Nebraska communities.
The August graduating class earned 391 new graduate and professional degrees and 297 new baccalaureate degrees. The university has awarded 305,658 degrees since it was founded in 1869.