Shane Farritor encouraged the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s December graduates to find their center to help them during life’s trying times.
Farritor, Lederer Professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Nebraska, delivered the address “Know Your Center” during the undergraduate commencement ceremony Dec. 18 at Pinnacle Bank Arena. A Nebraska native and Husker alumnus, he is also co-founder and chief technology officer of Virtual Incision, a company that makes miniature robots used in intestinal surgeries.
Farritor began his address by mentioning the Wheel of Fortune from the Middle Ages, a symbol of the capricious nature of fate that can be found in European cathedrals. The wheel includes a king at top, a prince or pauper at bottom, a king being slain or somehow falling on the right and an up-and-comer rising through the ranks on the left.
“The wheel depicts how there are successes and failures and everywhere in between — such is life,” Farritor said. “The wheel spins around and around, and you rise and fall. Fortune spins the wheel, and you go up and down. I think this is a great image and important warning.”
Farritor urged the graduates to find a center that grounds them, away from the ups and downs of fortune. He pointed out that his advanced kinematics students know that at the center of a spinning wheel, one has no velocity; but the further away from it one gets, the faster one goes.
“It’s only at the center of the wheel where things slow down and there is peace,” he said. “At the center of the wheel, everything is calm.”
Farritor said staying at the center is an easy thing to talk about but much more difficult to do, and that life is hard for everyone.
“It’s hard to avoid the bottom of the wheel, and it’s easy to forget about the bottom of the wheel when you’re near the top,” he said. “When things are going well, we don’t worry about the bottom of the wheel. However, I think we need to be anchored in the center. I think the center of the wheel is the only place to find true joy and true peace.”
Farritor also said it can be difficult to know one’s center.
“For many of us, it’s the divine,” he said. “Our families and those we love are certainly near the center of our wheel. It can be other forms of responsibility that we take on that give us meaning. It’s not easy to find your center, but I think we need to try.”
Farritor encouraged the graduates to keep learning and to begin thinking about what belongs at the center of their Wheel of Fortune.
“These things need to be personal, things that give you strength,” he said. “I think they can’t be abstract goals like saving the whales, although I want the whales to do fine. I think your center has to be something that’s meaningful to you and something you have to live every day.”
Farritor also told the graduates to remember the words of former Husker football coach Tom Osborne — that things are probably not as good as they seem, nor as bad.
He closed his address by telling the graduates to be kind, do justice and walk humbly.
Sarah Gervais, Susan J. Rosowski Professor of psychology at Nebraska, delivered the commencement address “Where Joy Lives” during the graduate and professional degree ceremony Dec. 17 at the arena.
Gervais told the graduates of her life taking a “hairpin turn off the joyful path” last November when her 3-year-old daughter, Millie, landed in the intensive care unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center with a life-threatening medical diagnosis. Millie had to be relocated to another state to receive cutting-edge treatment for her rare illness.
Gervais said the fear, anger and grief were real, but her family found that joy dwells in many places.
“Joy lives on the playground as Millie befriends kids with similar diagnoses,” she said. “Joy lives in the grace of prayers from family, friends, colleagues and students. Joy lives in positive lab results. Joy lives in dropping Millie off at preschool when we were told she’d never go again. Joy lives here. Joy lives now.”
Gervais recognized that, for the graduates, completing a graduate degree during a global pandemic is also extremely challenging.
She said the students’ hopes, inspiration and passion have been real, and so likely are feelings of anxiety, frustration and “not-enoughness.”
“And still, my guess is that the ups, the downs and even the mundane have been dotted with many moments of joy, because joy lives in the classroom where a professor first sparked your curiosity. Joy lives in late nights studying with classmates, likely with the assistance of copious amounts of caffeine. Joy lives in long hours in the lab, Love Library and The Mill on Innovation Campus.
“Joy lives in the ‘green light’ from your adviser for a thesis topic. Joy lives in a happy hour, a home-cooked dinner or a late-night trip to Runza after passing comprehensive exams. …”
Gervais said on good days she imagines she’s been handed a blank page to chart a new path with the lessons she’s learned over the past year but that most days she has no idea where she’s going. But she told the graduates that people don’t need a map for joy.
“In the places this degree will take you, hopefully in the company of good people and doing something that helps our world, you can find joy at any step along the way,” she said.
Chancellor Ronnie Green presided over the December commencement exercises, during which 2020 and previous 2021 graduates were also celebrated. About two dozen 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, resilience and determination through the greatest global health crisis in over 100 years is certainly part of what we celebrate in this academic milestone in your lives,” he said.
The university conferred 1,344 degrees during the December commencement ceremonies. The 1,316 graduates are from 41 countries, 43 states and the District of Columbia, and more than 150 Nebraska communities.
The December graduating class earned 369 new graduate and professional degrees and 975 new baccalaureate degrees. The university has awarded 307,002 degrees since it was founded in 1869.