Cook tells graduates to be grateful, work hard, dream big

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Cook tells graduates to be grateful, work hard, dream big
University awards 3,478 degrees in virtual graduation

Rose Wehrman of Kenesaw is photographed by Sarah Schilling of Omaha. The two graduates borrowed a cap and gown from a friend who graduated last year to take photos of each other on campus April 30. Wehrman earned a Bachelor of Arts with distinction, and Schilling earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with high distinction.
Craig Chandler | University Communication
Rose Wehrman of Kenesaw is photographed by Sarah Schilling of Omaha at the columns northeast of Memorial Stadium. The two graduates borrowed a cap and gown from a friend who graduated last year to take photos of each other on campus April 30. Wehrman earned a Bachelor of Arts with distinction, and Schilling earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with high distinction.

Husker volleyball coach John Cook told the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s May graduates to have an attitude of gratitude, be open to learning, work hard and dream big.

Full list of graduates | Featured grads | Slides | Program


Cook, who has led Nebraska to four national championships (2000, 2006, 2015 and 2017), delivered the keynote address, “Dream Big,” during the virtual graduation celebration May 9.

John Cook
John Cook

He began the speech by saying that “sometimes through crisis comes opportunity” and that the coronavirus shouldn’t detract from the day being special.

“You all have accomplished something great,” he told the graduates. “Think of it this way: You’ve scored the winning touchdown. You’ve made the final kill to win a big match. You’ve scored the winning basket. You hit the walk-off home run. Today is a special day.”


Cook said he was surprised when he was selected to be the graduation speaker. He said he might have been chosen because he was a first-generation college student; his family bleeds Husker red; both of his children graduated from the university; he may be called a coach but is still a teacher; the Husker volleyball team has a 100% graduation rate; or because the graduates had their freshman orientation at the Bob Devaney Sports Center, where the volleyball team plays its matches.

He said he also might have been chosen because of a promise he kept with a former player. When he recruited Jennifer Saleaumua, also a first-generation college student, he told her and her family that he would attend her graduation. Despite being sick with a stomach flu and needing intravenous fluids that morning in December 2006, he made it to her graduation and led their team to a national championship that night.

Video: Go Big Grad: A Husker Graduation Celebration

Cook offered some of his coaching secrets that he thought would be useful to graduates:

• Have an attitude of gratitude. Cook said he learned about the importance of this through Chick-fil-A, which has become a successful franchise by making customers feel appreciated. Employees there frequently say, “It’s my pleasure.” Cook encouraged the graduates to carry this attitude through life, with everyone they encounter.

• The longer I coach, the less I know. After going undefeated and winning the national championship in 2000, his first year at Nebraska, Cook said he thought he knew everything about coaching. But he said he learned more this past year than the previous 19 because he’s open to learning. “It makes it fun, you grow on the journey that you’re going through with your team and it also prevents burnout because I’m always learning and trying to get better,” he said.

• There ain’t no free lunch. Cook used to tell his seventh-grade boys’ basketball team, the first team he coached, the story of a great civilization that distilled the reason for its success into that sentence. “Nobody’s going to give you anything,” he said. “You’re going to go out and have to earn it and work for it.”

• Surround yourself with a team within a team. Cook said the most successful coaches and businesspeople all have one thing in common: they surround themselves with people who help them be the best they can be. He urged the graduates to do the same.

• “Dream big. Dream like a champion.” These are the words former Husker volleyball player Dani Mancuso texted her team at 2:14 a.m. before their national championship match against the favored Stanford Cardinal in 2006. “At that moment, I knew we were going to win,” Cook said, “because if she had that much confidence that she could send out that text, I knew our team was going to be in a great place.” The Huskers won in four sets.


Cook said he asks himself three questions every day: “Who needs me today?” “Would they hire me today?” and “Would I want to be coached by me?” He said these questions are helpful to ask each day, regardless of one’s field.

Cook also encouraged the graduates to find their “why” — their inspiration to do great things.

He told the story of Jordan Larson taking charge of Nebraska’s regional finals match at top-seeded Washington in 2008, rallying the Huskers from a 9-3 deficit in the fifth set for a 15-13 victory. Larson’s mother was too weak from cancer treatment to attend the match, and Larson pushed her team to victory so her mom could see her play in the Final Four.

“That’s when I learned the importance of somebody’s ‘why’ and how powerful that can be,” Cook said.

Cook closed the address by saying that the graduates need to have developed three bones: a backbone (to take on challenges, say no when necessary and know who one is), wishbone (to dream big) and funny bone (to have fun and be passionate).

Chancellor Ronnie Green delivers remarks during production of Go Big Grad: A Husker Graduation Celebration. Green officially conferred degrees to the 3,417 graduates at the end of the celebration.

The university conferred 3,478 degrees during the virtual celebration. It was the second-highest degree total in the university's history.

The 3,417 graduates are from 54 countries, 45 states and Puerto Rico, and 250 Nebraska communities.

Chancellor Ronnie Green hosted the program, which streamed online and aired on NET. He pointed out that the university has held a formal commencement ceremony nearly every year since 1869; however, one exception was during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.

“Back then, as now, we didn’t let world events get in the way of figuring out other ways to recognize the great accomplishments of our graduates,” he said.


The Go Big Grad celebration also included guest appearances by notable Nebraskans, campus leaders and alumni. Graduates received gift boxes in the mail with caps and tassels, allowing them to turn their tassels as a class.

Diplomas will be mailed to graduates. New this year, May 2020 graduates will be able to download and share their digital diploma. Details will be available soon.

All May 2020 graduates are invited to participate in a future commencement ceremony, and those plans are in the works.

“I can’t wait to see you back on our campus to participate in a future commencement ceremony or just to visit your alma mater,” Green said. “Although everything’s disrupted, we’re glad there’s one thing they can’t cancel — your bright future and impact on the world.”

The May graduating class earned 111 new Juris Doctor degrees, 580 new graduate and professional degrees and 2,787 new baccalaureate degrees. The university has awarded 299,231 degrees since it was founded in 1869.