Susan Fritz told the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s summer graduates to follow their dreams, live their values and keep an open mind.
Fritz, who recently became interim president of the University of Nebraska — the first woman to serve in the position — delivered the commencement address “This Place, These People, These Opportunities” Aug. 17 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
A Nebraska native and first-generation college student, Fritz recalled how she originally planned to be an accountant but changed her mind two weeks before she was supposed to take the CPA exam. She said she woke up and realized it wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life.
“I will never know what would have happened if I would have silenced that voice inside me and taken that exam,” she said. “Maybe I would have had a perfectly pleasant career as an accountant. But 30-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 adventures still on the way. I know I made that right choice for me.”
Fritz, who earned three degrees from Nebraska and has served in several roles at the university and within the NU system, said it’s always the right time to make a change you believe in.
“You might get a stern lecture, as I did. You might be scared, as I was,” she said. “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.”
Fritz told the graduates that the state and nation need their leadership, talents and ideas now as much as ever.
“It is your humility, grace, curiosity and resilience that will carry us forward,” she said. “Your openness to change, your willingness to seek the rich dimensions in other people and your refusal to ever stop growing will ensure that you are an active participant in the future instead of simply a spectator.”
Fritz said that in its 150 years, the University of Nebraska has never shied away from boldness. She noted that it was the first institution west of the Mississippi River to offer graduate education; taught such pioneering scholars as Willa Cather, Louise Pound and Mari Sandoz; and is at the forefront of solving today’s great challenges.
“This is the institution that gave someone like me the opportunity to stand before you today,” she said. “I know that you, too, will follow this model of discovery, growth and change. It’s a way of life here at Nebraska. It is the credo we should all live by.”
Fritz told the graduates that they would not remember everything they learned in the classroom but would remember the values they gained. She urged them to live those values every day, in every experience and decision.
“Every human interaction is an opportunity to lighten another person’s load,” she said. “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.”
Fritz said she recently met a Husker graduate student who shared a quote from a leadership book that stayed with Fritz for weeks: “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,” she said. “Now, as ever, the future depends on your leadership. May we all lead a life that leaves a legacy we can be proud of.”
The university conferred 734 degrees during the summer commencement ceremony. The graduates are from 35 countries, 38 states and more than 85 Nebraska communities.
Chancellor Ronnie Green presided over the ceremony, in which undergraduate and graduate degrees were awarded.
The August graduating class earned 361 new graduate and professional degrees and 373 new baccalaureate degrees. The university has awarded 294,326 degrees since it was founded in 1869.