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Green urges new grads to dream big, work hard, stay humble
Borrowing the credo of late Husker football player Sam Foltz, Chancellor Ronnie Green told the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s largest-ever graduating class to dream big, work hard and stay humble — all while sowing good in the world.
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Green, who plans to retire at the end of June, delivered the keynote addresses during the graduate and undergraduate commencement ceremonies May 19 and 20.
Foltz, who graduated in May 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Agronomy, was set to begin his final season at Nebraska as a team captain — with the NFL Draft and graduate studies ahead — when he was killed in a car accident on July 23, 2016. His friend and fellow punter, Michigan State’s Mike Sadler, was also killed in the crash.
Green, who became chancellor a couple of months prior, recalled standing with Foltz’s teammates in prayer the day after the accident near the Brook Berringer and Tom Osborne statue north of Memorial Stadium.
“To say that Husker Nation was devastated is a major understatement,” he said.
The chancellor described Foltz’s credo as “simple but profound” and “highly instructive for all of us.”
Green said these are more than words; they are a call to action and mindset to live by.
“Anything is possible if we have the courage to imagine it, to visualize it and to work towards it,” he said. “As you set out into the world, I encourage you to dream big, to imagine the impossible and to never give up on your goals and aspirations.”
Green said he learned this way of life from his “salt-of-the-earth parents” and that he has instilled the value of hard work in his children.
“(These words) remind us that success is not guaranteed, inevitable, entitled or handed to us on a silver platter,” he said, “but must be earned through dedication, discipline and a willingness to push ourselves beyond our limits — just as you have done in achieving your academic degree under these extraordinary circumstances.”
Contrary to what the world would have one believe, Green said, true greatness is not measured by accomplishments, wealth, power, prestige or privilege, but by one’s ability to connect with, empathize with and serve others.
“As you go out into the world and achieve great things — which I have no doubt that you are going to do — remember to stay humble, to recognize your own limitations and to continually be listening to and learning from others — all the while with that humility focused on sowing good in the world,” he said.
Green said he suspected that some of the graduates might think that “sowing good” is altruistic or idealistic.
“I challenge you to dismiss that thought because I can assure you that it isn’t,” he said. “Everything, and I mean everything we do, should be directed at sowing good in the world.”
The chancellor closed the undergraduate address with a video of him singing an excerpt of the Susan Werner song “May I Suggest.” He told the graduates that “indeed, this is the best part of your life.”
“I can hardly wait to see all of the good that you will collectively sow in the world, undergirded with your phenomenal education at Nebraska,” he said. “Congratulations to each and every one of you. Now do big and good things.”
The chancellor and his wife, “Husker” Jane, plan to return to Christian lay ministry work, re-engage with the animal protein and agriculture industries around the world and spend more time with their growing family.
Green also presided over the commencement ceremonies.
JoAnn Martin, former CEO of Ameritas and longtime university supporter, posthumously received the 2023 Nebraska Builder Award during the undergraduate ceremony. Bob Kerrey, former Nebraska governor and former U.S. senator for Nebraska, received an honorary Doctor of Law during the ceremony. Nebraska Supreme Court Justice Stephanie F. Stacy spoke to the law graduates May 20.
The university conferred a record 3,748 degrees — the fourth such record in the past six years — during the ceremonies. The 3,664 graduates are from 59 countries; 47 states, the District of Columbia and Guam; and more than 240 Nebraska communities.
The May graduating class earned 118 new Juris Doctor degrees, 601 other new graduate and professional degrees and 3,029 new baccalaureate degrees. The university has awarded 316,281 degrees since it was founded in 1869.